Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: The Fairy Queen
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe, Carolyn Sampson, Ed Lyon, Andrew Foster-Williams, Sally Dexter, Joseph Millson, Desmond Barrit; Glyndebourne Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/William Christie; dir. Jonathan Kent (Glyndebourne, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1031 D

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There’s magic in the air, and it doesn’t just emanate from Joseph Millson’s saturnine Oberon or his athletic sidekick Puck.

Musicologists might designate Purcell’s brush with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream a semi-opera, but there’s nothing ‘semi’ about Jonathan Kent’s joyous Glyndebourne production, bursting with opulent stagecraft (what price Titania and Bottom punted by a goldfish in a pea-pod gondola?), and achieving the near-miracle of fashioning something coherent out of a piece the balancing of whose elements Kent appositely likens to ‘corralling cats’!

The ‘fit’ between words and music as they weave in and out of each other is seamless, no clunky changes of gear intrude, but then Kent is abetted by William Christie in the pit, a man of the theatre down to his gainfully-deployed fingertips, with Kim Brandstrup’s supple choreography the icing on a cake delectable above all for its supreme ‘ensemble’ integrity.

There’s no stinting on the comedy: from Desmond Barrit’s exuberantly over-the-top Welsh Bottom to Robert Burt’s nipple-tweaking Les Dawson-esque Mopsa, from the quivering cornfield of copulating bunnies to Hymen reimagined as a grumpy, carrier-bag-clutching vicar, the jokes are seaside postcard saucy. But like The Magic Flute or Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, The Fairy Queen explores notions of union and the maturing trials that provide the cement.

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During Carolyn Sampson’s anguished ‘Plaint’, the lovers cling to each other, benumbed, vulnerable, seeking comfort, and by relocating the Act V Chinoiserie to a glimpse of Eden complete with the consequences of knowledge attained, Kent cunningly refocuses our minds on the imperatives of love, lust and awareness that have driven the piece from the start. Altogether a riotously funny, ravishingly intelligent production. Paul Riley