The Fairy Queen: A Production Evoking the Spirit of Purcell

23/08/2014

 Purcell, The Fairy QueenThe Sebastians, Jeff Grossman (musical director), Christopher Caine (director and choreographer), East Thirteenth Street Theatre, New York, 18.8.2014 (SSM)

 

dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's THE FAIRY QUEEN Photo

dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s THE FAIRY QUEEN
Photo: (c) Brian E. Long

I  had some difficulty starting this review. No, not the normal writer’s block, but rather a struggle to find the adjectives that would do justice to this performance. “Well-done,” “excellent,”  “captivating,” “seductive,” “clever,” “charming”: yes, it was all these. But there was something special that this performance had and the only word I can think of to describe it is one that can be dull and emotionally neutral, but is also filled with all sorts of issues: “authentic.” This word normally takes me somewhere that I don’t want to go: “historically informed productions,” “original instrumentation,” “vibrato-less playing,” “white voices,” “temperaments” and “correct pitches.” There were parts of this production that one might question the authenticity of the performance. But it was authentic, not because it followed or didn’t follow certain stylistic guidelines, but because it carried with it what I see as the spirit of Henry Purcell. We’ll never know, of course, the specifics of the actual productions in his lifetime, but I can’t imagine that they were very far from this performance. I was captivated from beginning to end, caught up in the group’s unflagging energy and enthusiasm. We know New York is the home of many talented people hoping for a break, but to put together a troupe of such multi-talented performers is a credit to the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble team and Christopher Caines.

This particular production is similar in concept to William Christie’s and Jonathan Kent’s 2009 performance from Glyndebourne, revived the following year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Both creatively incorporated text from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in a sense using it to make the semi-opera whole. Christie/Kent’s Fairy Queen was lavishly produced, with imaginative sets and costumes plus well-known singers. Both productions had their moments of anachronism with occasional topical subjects added to the text, be it “Brooks Brothers” used as a synecdoche (but uttered a little too frequently here), or Kent’s copulating rabbits in the earlier production. (Don’t ask!) Both incorporated actors, vocalists and dancers, but the key difference here is that in the Christie/Kent version, there was only one person on stage capable of  multiple skills: Robert Bolt, who acted, sung and played the flute. In the Caines version, many are multitalented.

One of the weaknesses of an otherwise fine recent production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea was the clear discomfort of the vocalists who awkwardly stood around as dancers from Mark Morris’s troupe flew by. A little acting skill was all that would have been  required for the soloists to overcome their anxiety. Baroque opera is a mixed art form, each genre requiring different or multiple talents. The talents needed for a semi-opera are different from what’s required for an opéra-lyrique or an opéra-ballet. The real success of this performance was the ability of most members of the troupes to break down the barriers between art forms. When all are involved and all work together as an entity, the parts are subsumed to make a greater whole.

Not every aria was pitch perfect, not every actor was a Hamlet, not every dancer had twinkle-toes or was expected to dance like Aynsley Inglis  or Luke Tucker. Purcell writes that we should “sing while we trip it on the green.” Tripping on the green requires no dancing lessons. There was some exceptional singing here, voices that should be heard and appreciated by a wider audience. There was an energy that is rarely present in other performances as a result of everyone being on stage most of the time. Vocalists came out from the crowd, sang and slipped back to the group.

The musical accompaniment may have been  stripped down, but there was never a feeling of thinness. When needed, Baroque trumpets were added. The musicians performing the obbligato parts of some of the arias never drew attention to themselves, and at the quieter moments never “disturbed” the characters’ “sleeping sense.”

dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's THE FAIRY QUEEN Photo (C)

dell’Arte Opera Ensemble’s THE FAIRY QUEEN
Photo (C) Brian E. Long

Purcell was that rare composer who seemed to have had an endless fount of melodies. These wonderful songs and arias, whose motifs would fill happily any other composers’ notebooks, are for Purcell literally throwaways. It was entirely appropriate to draw the curtain covering the picture of Purcell in the last act. However, it was clear to me that he had been with us through the entire production.

Stan Metzger

  

Note: It has been our usual policy to list actors, soloists and dancers at the head of the review page.
Given the number of people involved with this production, I’m appending the list of their names below

  

fq-1

pic03fq-1

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 BBC Proms from Friday 14 July – Saturday 9 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces Details of New Season 2017/2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2017 Season in its New Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! In 2017 The Three Choirs Festival is from 22 to 29 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Glyndebourne Festival 2017: At Glyndebourne, At the Cinema and On Tour __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2017 features Salieri’s The School of Jealousy __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces Seventh Festival of Song for April __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera Announces its 2017/2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! General Booking is Now Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at London’s Southbank Centre in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! IN MEMORIAM LOUIS FRÉMAUX (1921-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Robert Farr reports on the 26th Annual Singing Competition Final – Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers __________________________________
  • UPDATED IN MEMORIAM NICOLAI GEDDA (1925-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! BARITONE MICHAEL VOLLE IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST ALEXANDER KARPEYEV IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Reviews of Opera in Mumbai: A Gala and La Bohème Revisited __________________________________
  • NEW! FIVE YOUNG SINGERS JOIN THE JETTE PARKER YOUNG ARTISTS FOR 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! THE SOPRANO ELISABETH MEISTER: FIGHTING BACK FROM WHAT LIFE THROWS AT YOU AND INSPIRING OTHERS __________________________________
  • NEW! REVIEWERS OF SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL PICK THEIR BEST OF 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Mastersingers Celebrate Wagner Past and Present with the Rehearsal Orchestra __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H