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Six questions for … Jane Archibald

In Britten’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Jane Archibald sings Tytania, Queen of the Fairies, continually at daggers drawn with her husband, Oberon. Here we put six questions to the soprano on the subject of loyalty

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Opera in three acts by Benjamin Britten
Conductor: Markus Stenz
Director: Ted Huffman
With James Hall, Jane Archibald, Jami Reid-Quarrell, Padraic Rowan, Davia Bouley / Annika Schlicht, Gideon Poppe, Dean Murphy, Karis Tucker, Alexandra Hutton, Patrick Guetti, Tyler Zimmerman, Andrew Dickinson, Jörg Schörner, Matthew Cossack et al.
30 September, 2, 10, 15 October 2021

Ms Archibald, in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM there’s a lot of lusting and desiring going on. Is it feasible to love more than one person?
I’m quite certain of it – I’m just not sure that it works if you’re actually in love. People in polyamorous relationships wouldn’t agree with that, but it’s not something I could do.

Many people look at monogamy as a Western invention, as a minority phenomenon in the arc of human history. What do you make of that?
For a lot of people nowadays serial monogamy is the thing to aim for: one steady partner at a time, in sequence. People want a range of experiences. But without wanting to claim any universal truth in the matter, I think I can say that building and committing to an intimate relationship with a single person takes a lot of energy. Sharing and replicating that kind of intensity with a number of people must be pretty complicated.

What’s the meaning of loyalty?
For me, loyalty means sticking with my partner through thick and thin. I’m not trying to follow some dictum along the lines of »Flirting is ok, but not sex«. Being unfaithful begins when you withhold from your partner your affection and your vulnerability as a person, making someone else privy to it instead. The physical consummation at some later stage is only the nail in the coffin.

How do you deal with jealousy?
Jealousy is not really a thing for me – which is useful if, like me, you’re married to another singer. I watch my husband getting up to God knows what with other women on stage, and yet I’m perfectly aware that even if there’s a scrap of chemistry there, you’re standing there sweating in front of hundreds of spectators and thinking of your song text… there’s nothing particularly sexy about that. If you ask me, jealousy is a sign of insecurity – not just in the relationship but deep within yourself – and I feel very secure.

What takeaway in terms of loyalty do you get from Tytania?
Oberon’s the one you should ask about loyalty. The great thing about this scene is that it’s his actions that set Tytania on the path to unfaithfulness. Oberon’s curse is pretty mean; in a sense he’s actually spiking her drink or playing her like a puppet on a string, deliberately putting her in a weak position.

What grabs you about singing this particular part?
Tytania is queen – and a certain spoilt egocentricity is part and parcel of that position. But no sooner is she under Oberon`s spell than we see this powerful character as vulnerable and wholeheartedly in love. She shows us how unimportant the failings of a loved one are to the person who’s in love. When she ignores Bottom’s donkey head, it’s an extreme representation of the blindness of love. I should also say: even though I love playing the diva on stage, I also adore this opera, because it puts an ensemble of players at centre stage and demonstrates that we all depend on each other and we’re all weaving a wonderful tapestry out of our various voices. —

Text: Jana Petersen



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