Director Michael Hoffman's decision to set his film adaptation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in turn-of-the-century Tuscany paid mixed dividends in his attempts to bring the play to the screen. While it provided an beautiful physical setting with an inherent aura of romance and passion, it made for a somewhat clumsy transition to the fairy kingdom, which doesn't respond well to the groundedness provided by such a specific historical environment. The impact of the period and location on the music, however, was an unmixed success. It allowed Hoffman to dip into the robust romantic tradition of 19th-century Italian opera, which was a happy circumstance not only for Hoffman's film but for the accompanying soundtrack album. The CD contains several gorgeous operatic compositions performed by some of the most luminous voices available. Verdi's frothy "Brindisi" is performed with playful luster by Renee Fleming and Marcello Giordani. Luciano Pavarotti follows with a heart-stoppingly powerful rendition of Puccini's "Che Gelida Manina." There are also beautiful performances of Donizetti and Rossini, but the record's brightest moment is Fleming's uncommonly exquisite "Casta Diva," a Bellini aria that movingly sets a florid soprano solo against a steady choral foundation that increases gradually in intensity. The soundtrack also includes several excerpts from Felix Mendelssohn's symphonic setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Which is from the wrong country, of course (Germany rather than Italy), but since it's from the right period and was written for the right play, it fits in nicely. The only problem with including all of this gorgeous music on the soundtrack is that it hopelessly overshadows Simon Boswell's original score. Boswell's contribution is actually quite innovative and effective, drawing from sources as diverse as Mozart, Ravel, and the popular traditions of India, Bulgaria and Syria in an attempt to capture the ethereal and whimsical qualities of the fairy kingdom. But placed alongside these immortal classics, his work seems unavoidably lightweight.
AllMusic Review by Evan Cater