Purcell: The Indian Queen

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: The Indian Queen
PERFORMER: Julie Cooper, Kirsty Hopkins, Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell, Matthew Long, Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Stuart Young; The Sixteen/Harry Christophers


Purcell’s last major stage work, The Indian Queen, dates from 1695, the year of his death. Unlike his earlier semi-operas which mix song and speech, music plays an integral part in The Indian Queen. Its story of love and war – text by poet laureate Dryden and his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard – concerns the conflict between the Mexicans and Peruvians in which the Indian Queen Zempoalla plays a central role. Almost all the music was newly composed and is of high quality. His younger brother, Daniel, composed the concluding masque – attractive but musically inferior.

The voices and instruments of The Sixteen are on characteristically alluring form, sensitive to the myriad subtleties of music often overlooked in favour of the larger-scaled King Arthur and The Fairy Queen. The prologue and each of the five acts have their share of beguiling numbers. Try Matthew Long’s vibrant declamation of the Act II air, ‘I come to sing great Zempoalla’s story’, and Julie Cooper’s airy articulation of what is probably the best-known piece in the work, ‘I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain’ (Act III). Few will resist the colourful panoply of instrumental movements, and the fine introductory Symphony to Act II known from its use as Overture to the ode, Come ye sons of art away.


Nicholas Anderson