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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
RevelatoryJan. 16 2011
Stephen J. Willson
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This performance puts into a contemporary context the goals of the 17th century masque and remakes an old art form into a spectacular new art form. The sound is sharp and clear, and the singing is virtuoso. Yet other performances of Purcell's exquisite music (such as by Les Arts Florissants on CD) are also excellent. What is amazing is the staging and the integration of the spoken text and dance with the music. At times bawdy, at times tender, the performance is always vivid and always captures attention. While I can't agree with every detail in the director's choices (such as the use of dress shoes for Bottom's ears as an ass), repeatedly the choices startle yet work.
The masque was an English semi-opera form designed to compete with and contrast with the Italian and French opera of the day. It contains extended sections of spoken text and action alternating with extended series of musical numbers that may be only peripheral to the story. The goal was in part to impress the viewer with the luxury of stage effects and costumes. The liner notes mention that the original production in 1692 nearly bankrupted the Dorset Gardens Theatre in London. This production under review is spectacular in the same sense, with rich costumes, especially for some of the allegorical figures. It has startling effects such as the use of cables to suspend singers, dancers, and actors in the air. The spoken portions let the ear readjust to speech and make the next musical interlude contrast even more vividly. The bawdy musical numbers, while clearly contemporary, serve the same purposes as the bawdy comic sections of Shakespeare's plays, a goal of contrast and variety.
The music by itself is supremely beautiful. This performance puts the music into its context as designed in 1692, not as a tired museum piece but rather as something contemporary and exciting.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A "Must" for Lovers of Baroque OperaSept. 18 2010
Paul Van de Water
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Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was Handel's greatest English predecessor. Purcell is perhaps best known as composer of the first English opera, Dido and Aeneas. But he also wrote instrumental music for 40 plays and composed five masques, or semi-operas, that combine song, dance, and spoken word--King Arthur, The Fairy Queen, the Indian Queen, the Tempest, and Dioclesian. Of these, The Fairy Queen is widely regarded as Purcell's stage masterpiece.
Purcell's masques have been well treated in recordings. Soprano Phyllis Curtin, conductor Daniel Pinkham, and the Cambridge Festival Orchestra recorded extensive excerpts from The Fairy Queen for Allegro records in the 1950s. Since then, several other fine performances have come to LP and CD. Only recently, however, have efforts been made to present The Fairy Queen on stage in a way that its original audiences might have experienced it in 1692 and 1693.
The Fairy Queen is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This 2009 performance from Glyndebourne reunites Purcell's music and Shakespeare's drama. The musical and dramatic results are nothing short of spectacular. Baroque expert William Christie conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a fine team of soloists in a first-rate performance. Director Jonathan Kent provides what a Gramophone reviewer calls "a veritable feast on the eyes." He visually distinguishes the three groups of characters in the play: the humans (Thebans, dressed in 17th century costume), the mechanicals (who perform the play-within-a-play, in modern garb), and the fairies. The interpolated entertainments, or masques, provide further opportunities for visual variety. Both the music and the staging give expression to the underlying structure of Shakespeare's work, in which strife in the fairy kingdom creates disorder in the world, and harmony must be restored so that love and marriage may triumph.
Thanks to recordings, the beauty of the Purcell's music has long been recognized. But the music alone left most listeners (certainly this one) quite unclear as to what the Fairy Queen is all about. Now that the music and play have been brought together again, The Fairy Queen is no longer a mystery.
In the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten turned A Midsummer Night's Dream into a full-fledged opera. Britten was greatly influenced by Purcell. Think A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, also known as Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell. In fact, Britten prepared editions of Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen. It would be interesting for someone to trace parallels between Britten's opera and Purcell's semi-opera.
This video is an absolute must for lovers of Purcell or baroque opera. If you're tempted, don't resist.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Semi-opera, full delight!March 6 2011
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I concur with the other rave reviews. Be aware that this three-and-a-half-hour production is as much play as opera, but who can complain when the playwright is none other than Shakespeare ("A Midsummer Night's Dream")!
Purcell's incidental music beautifully captures all the moods from languid to angry to sensual to whimsical, and it is used more in masques and ballet sequences than in the telling of the story itself; but there are still a fair number of arias and choral numbers, many of them toward the end, after most of the plot is finished.
The acting is a little uneven; and while the singers are very good, they are not amazing. It is a young and attractive cast, singers and all, with the deliberate exception of the acting troupe for the play-within-a-play.
The true glory of the production is William Christie and the instrumentally-correct baroque band, who channel Purcell with flair and virtuosity, seamlessly and musically integrating early-music performance practice with drama and sensitivity to form an organic whole. The chorus is excellent, too.
This Blu-ray is a heartening exception to the all-too-frequent case in which one has to make a choice between the stunning visual quality of HD and the much better selection of performances in lesser-quality DVDs.
This production uses modern clothing and a few other contemporary touches in a way that does not destroy the timeless feel of more traditional stagings, a relatively easy feat to bring off because this is not a work that need take itself too seriously.
Great fun is had by all, certainly by us the audience, and seemingly by the cast and musicians as well. As in much fine comic opera, the music reaches sublimity belied by the hijinks on stage.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An outstanding achievement which will be irresistible for those attracted by the programNov. 5 2012
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This recording of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, recorded in 2009 at Glyndebourne, to my mind is a remarkable achievement providing both enlightenment and entertainment in almost equal measure.
Enlightenment is achieved by bringing to life in a comprehensible manner an entertainment that really has no obvious modern equivalent but in a way that makes sense to a modern audience. The entertainment dating from 1692 was a lavish theatre production and consisted of a compilation of text and music incorporating dance, song, tableaux and play. The props were provided at almost limitless cost and included all manner of extravagance.
This open-ended concept, with a more circumspect eye to finance, has been attempted at Glyndebourne with total success to my mind. The balance between text and music is approximately 1:2 with the text loosely centred on extracts from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, largely weighted towards the beginning but still providing an on-going unifying structure or narrative thread. Around and within this is an otherwise bewildering sequence of very loosely related musical scenarios. Some of these are related to mythological situations, some to seasons of the year and some were references to well-known personages of the time long since forgotten. Lots of the content is very amusing and intentionally funny. The references to past characters are now related to situations in the production such as the drunken song now being related to the character of Bottom in the play for example.
The cast is considerable in both quality and quantity with 16 well-known actors taking the character parts in the Midsummer Night's Dream sections and 18 equally well-known singers performing the solo musical roles. As there are so many individual solo members of the cast, in my opinion it would be invidious to single out members for particular praise in this case and would take far too much space to comment about all of them individually. The dance choreography is of an equal standard. The specialist `Age of the Enlightenment' orchestral members play their historically correct instruments superbly and with considerable energy under the expert guidance of William Christie.
This is a very long production lasting just under 4 hours. Amazingly the time seems to fly by and does not falter for a moment. This is a remarkable achievement therefore. To help understand further, there is an informative booklet and two interview features on the disc. These are a 10 minute interview with the producer Jonathan Kent plus a 9 minute interview with conductor William Christie. Both of these films are well worth watching and are also very informative and helpful aids to enjoyment.
The recording is outstanding with fully involving camera work coupled with crisp imaging with excellent definition and colour. The sound is full ranging and fully captures every detail with precision and fidelity. It is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo.
This is a unique project where there are really no comparisons to be made of any suitable relevance. The audience clearly loved every moment and their good humoured responses are audibly apparent at all appropriate moments. It certainly has involved me in much the same way the several times I have watched this disc so I would expect this to be a frequent reaction from most purchasers. If this program appeals and as the quality is of such a high standard in every respect I see no valid reason for awarding less than the full 5 stars.
Great Production of FairyJune 6 2013
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I was fortunate to be able to attend the Glyndebourne production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, which was wonderful. The Blu-ray is very well done, and a lot less expensive than the train to Lewes, tux, and tickets!