Tuesday, 19 February 2008

59. Henry Purcell - The Fairy Queen (1692)


Title: The Fairy Queen
Performers: Schutz Choir of London, London Classical Players, et al.
Director: Roger Norrington
Year: 1999
Length: 2 hours 15 minutes


This is a strange kind of opera, well it would be more accurate to call it a semi-opera, a type of opera quite endemic to the British Isles, it also makes for some pretty uninteresting Opera from the point of view of dramatic expression.

This is not so much an opera as a collection of vignettes that were supposed to fill in the spaces between the acts of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. The vignettes themselves are quite unrelated to the play in many of the cases, they are related however to the event when this was first played in the court of King William III.

Watching or listening to it today out of context is just baffling, maybe it should be integrated with the play making it last for more than 4 hours and it would still make little sense.

Musically, however it is lovely, some of Purcell's best music but it is so disjointed that it even hardly feels like a whole work and more like several little works. Some of them are funny, some tragic, some nonsensical. Oh well.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The English tradition of semi-opera, to which The Fairy-Queen belongs, demanded that most of the music within the play be introduced through the agency of supernatural beings, the exception being pastoral or drunken characters. All the masques in The Fairy-Queen are presented by Titania or Oberon. Originally Act I contained no music, but due to the work's enormous success it was revived in 1693, when Purcell added the scene of the Drunken Poet and two further songs later on in the work; "Ye gentle spirits of the air" and "The Plaint". As said above, each masque is subtly related to the action in the play during that particular act in a metaphorical way. In this manner we have Night and Sleep in Act II, which is apt as that act of the play consists of Oberon's plans to use the power of the "love-in-idleness" flower to confuse various loves, and it is therefore appropriate for the allegorical figures of Secrecy, Mystery et al to usher in a night of enchantment. The masque for Bottom in Act III includes metamorphoses, songs of both real and feigned love, and beings who are not what they seem. The Reconciliation masque between Oberon and Titania at the end of Act IV prefigures the final masque. The scene changes to a Garden of Fountains, denoting King William's hobby, just after Oberon says "bless these Lovers' Nuptial Day". The Four Seasons tell us that the marriage here celebrated is a good one all year round and "All Salute the rising Sun"/...The Birthday of King Oberon". The kings of England were traditionally likened to the sun (Oberon = William. Significantly, William and Mary were married on his birthday, 4 November.). The Chinese scene in the final masque is in homage to Queen Mary's famous collection of china. The garden shown above it and the exotic animals bring King William back into the picture and Hymen's song in praise of their marriage, plus the stage direction bringing (Mary's) china vases containing (William's) orange trees to the front of the stage complete the symbolism.

Hornpipe from Fairy Queen:

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