The Fairy Queen

Henry Purcell The Fairy Queen semi-opera to anonymous adaptation (with massive cuts) of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Directed 2009 by Jonathan Kent at Glyndebourne. Stars as actors Joseph Millson (Oberon), Sally Dexter (Titania), Jotham Annan (Puck), Desmond Barrit (Bottom), Robert Burt (Flute), Jack Chissick (Snout), Paul McCleary (Quince), Brian Pettifer (Snug), Roger Sloman (Starveling), Taliesin Knight (Changeling Boy), Terrence Hardiman (Egeus), William Gaunt (Theseus), Susannah Wise (Hermia), Helen Bradbury (Helena), Oliver Kieran Jones (Lysander), and Oliver Le Sueur (Demetrius). Singing stars are Claire Debono (First Fairy/Spring), Anna Devin (Second Fairy), Desmond Barrit (Drunken Poet), Carolyn Sampson (Night), Ed Lyon (Secrecy/Adam), Andrew Foster-Williams (Sleep/Coridon), Robert Burt (Mopsa), Sean Clayton (Summer), Adrian Ward (Autumn), Lukas Kargl (Phœbus), Lucy Crowe (Juno), and Helen-Jane Howells (Eve) as well as  Miriam Allan, Rachel Redmond, and John Mackenzie (Soloists from the Glyndebourne Chorus). Dancing stars are Laura Caldow, Nuni Campos, Tommy Franzén, Caroline Lynn, Omar Gordon, Anthony Kurt-Gabel, Maurizio Montis, and Sarah Storer. William Christie conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Leader Alison Bury) and the Glyndebourne Chorus (Assistant Chorus Master Oliver Gooch). Designs by Paul Brown; lighting by Mark Henderson; choreography by Kim Brandstrup; TV direction by François Roussillon; executive production by Toni Hajal; sound supervision by Jean Chatauret. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B

In 1590 Edmund Spenser finished The Faerie Queen. This is a long epic poem glorifying Queen Elizabeth I and has nothing to do with our subject Fairy-Queen except to have a confusingly similar name. About 6 years later, Shakespeare finished A Midsummer Night's Dream, a comedy about Titania, the tiny queen of the fairies. About 100 years after that, Henry Purcell wrote in 1692 The Fairy-Queen (with a hyphen in the name), which is a "semi-opera" about Shakespeare's Titania. It's called a semi-opera because the basic framework consists of Shakespeare's familiar Midsummer Night's Dream story of the mixed-up lovers, the war between Titania and Oberon, and the misadventures of the "rude mechanicals" --- all spoken as in a play. Purcell then added musical and dance numbers that range from chaste classical allegory to slapstick silly slightly sloppy salacious sex. Three years later in 1695, Purcell died. His The Fairy-Queen was promptly lost and was basically unknown for more than 200 years.

The Fairy-Queen was revived early in the twentieth century as a concert piece, and there are a number of CDs available today of the music. There have been only a handfull of important productions of The Fairy-Queen in modern times, and subject title is the only video in HDVD.  So this title is an important document for lovers of baroque opera and fans of Henry Purcell.

Now for some screenshots. First we meet some of the characters in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream starting with Hermia (Susannah Wise). Hermia's father has decided she must marry Demetrius. The Duke of Athens rules she must follow her father's order or go into a convent . . .

So Hermia and her sweetheart Lysander (Oliver Kieran Jones) decide to flee. They confide in Hermia's close friend Helena (Helen Bradbury), and that is where the pot starts to thicken quickly. If you would like help with the tricky plot, try our outline of A Midsummer Night's Dream:

In the forest outside the town lives a race of fairies. Meet the most famous of them all, Puck (Jotham Anna), who is in the service of Oberon, the King of the Fairies:

And here is Titania, the tiny Queen of the Fairies (Sally Dexter):

All of the Shakespeare adaptation is spoken (without music). But mixed in with the famous play are scenes from the opera with a completely different libretto, and these scenes are sung and supported by the orchestra. (I have attached an Appendix with the entire sung libretto.) Here is a shot from Track 10 with the a verse from the song "Come all ye songsters of the sky." I'm not sure who the singer is:

The singing character Mystery (Claire Debono):

Titania went to sleep in her bower, which is made of a spider web. Here we see Oberon (Joseph Millson) anointing Titania with the magic flower:

And Puck is anointing Lysander by mistake:

And of course the play has Shakespeare's "rude mechanicals" preparing to stage a play called Pyramus and Thisby. The players don't want to confuse the audience, so they plan to write a Prologue that will, among other things . . .

Puck makes Bottom (Desmond Barrit) look like an ass:

When Titania wakes up, she sees the ass and falls in love:

Now we are back to the singing roles. Here, for example, are the rustics Coridon (Andrew Foster-Williams)  and Mopsa (Robert Burt). Contrast the bland lyrics here to the magnificence of Shakespeare's text:

The song of a Nymph (not identified) leads to a scene with most of the chorus members dressed as copulating bunny rabbits (British humour):

Eventually, Oberon and Puck get the lovers correctly matched up. Here's Demetrius (Oliver Le Sueur) and Helena just at the moment when Helena realizes that Demetrius loves her again:

And here another nice shot of Lysander and Hermia:

More music and rather stock characters follow. For example, here we see Phœbus (Lukas Bargl) singing a song of the sun:

Spring (Claire Debono) sings. To me this seems to be a drab design for the season of renewal:

Winter (Andrew Foster-Williams):

And finally the play by the mechanicals goes on. Here we have Wall (Jack Chissick playing Snout playing Wall) and Pyramus (Desmond Barrit playing Bottom playing Pyramus):

Joined by Thisby (Robert Burt playing Flute playing Thisby):

After the performance of Pyramus and Thisby, the Shakespeare play is almost over. But we still have 62 more minutes of The Fairy Queen to go. The anonymous sung libretto becomes more and more hackneyed as the hour creeps on, and the images wax less and less interesting. Here's the end with double-wedding images and some exceptionally lame lyrics:

A production of The Fairy Queen (now no hyphen in the name) is a director's dream since the musical score is sketchy and has room for anything the law will allow in the way of design and action. The screenshots give you a good impression of the dual nature of this play + opera. The screenshots don't do justice to the interesting sets, and I should mention there is some nice dancing also the mix. And, of course, The Age of Enlightenment Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus will please early-music fans.

Gramophone magazine rated this as the best DVD/HDVD published in 2010!  Gramophone  seemed to like it because it's an unusual event graced with many fine actors, singers, and dancers. When I first saw this is 2011, I found the whole thing a bit excessive and uneven. When I re-reviewed it in 2014 to add screenshots, I enjoyed the beginning more than before; but I had to force myself to stick around thru the dreary Act 5.

If you are a special fan of early music, current-day frantic British comedy, or Shakespeare, you may enjoy this production. Otherwise, you might be bewildered, and in any event you will need tons of sitzfleisch. Caution about children: this show is too esoteric and tedious for youngsters; and if they should perchance see the bunny rabbits, be prepared for questions you can't answer.

Now to a grade: This disc has excellent production values. I think Glyndebourne management decided to do this uncut so art-lovers would have a complete record of this obscure work. But because of the weakness of the sung libretto, I give this a "B."

 

 

Appendix:

Here is the libretto for the sung portions of the The Fairy Queen. This was contributed by Eric Maldague to a Standford University website of opera libretti.

Act I
Come, come, come, let us leave the Town
And in some lonely place,
Where Crouds and Noise were never known,
Resolve to spend our days.
In pleasant Shades upon the Grass
At Night our selves we'll lay;
Our Days in harmless Sport shall pass,
Thus Time shall slide away.

Drunken Poet:
Fill up the Bowl, then, &c.

1st Fairy, Chorus :
Trip it, trip it in a Ring;
Around this Mortal Dance, and Sing.

Poet:
Enough, enough,
We must play at Blind Man's Buff.
Turn me round, and stand away,
I'll catch whom I may.

1st Fairy, Chorus:
About him go, so, so, so,
Pinch the Wretch, from Top to Toe;
Pinch him forty, forty times,
Pinch till he confess his Crimes.

Poet:
Hold you damn'd tormenting Punk,
I do confess ?

Both Fairies:
What, what, &c.

Poet:
I'm Drunk, as I live Boys, Drunk.

Both Fairies:
What art thou, speak?

Poet:
If you will know it,
I am a scurvy Poet.

Chorus:
Pinch him, pinch him for his Crimes,
His Nonsense, and his Dogrel Rhymes.

Poet:
Hold! Oh! Oh1 Oh!

Both Fairies:
Confess more, more.

Poet:
I confess, I'm verypoor.
Nay prithee do not pinch me so,
Good dear Devil, let me go;
And as I hope to wear the Bays,
I'll write a Sonnet in thy Praise.

Chorus:
Drive 'em hence, away, away
Let 'em sleep till break of Day.


Act II
Come all ye Songsters of the Sky,
Wake, and Assemble in this Wood;
But no ill-boding Bird be nigh,
None but the Harmless and the Good.

Trio:

May the God of Wit inspire,
The Sacred Nine to bear a part;
And the Blessed Heavenly Quire,
Shew the utmost of their Art.
While Echo shall in sounds remote,
Repeat each Note,
Each Note, each Note.

Chorus:
Now joyn your Warbling Voices all.

Song and Chorus:
Sing while we trip it on the Green;
But no ill Vapours rise or fall,
Nothing offend our Fairy Queen.

Night:
See, even Night her self is here,
To favour your Design;
And all her Peaceful Train is near,
That Men to Sleep incline.
Let Noise and Care,
Doubt and Despair,
Envy and Spight,
(The Fiends delight)
Be ever Banish'd hence,
Let soft Repose,
Her Eye-lids close;
And murmuring Streams,
Bring pleasing Dreams;
Let nothing stay to give offence.

Mystery:
I am come to lock all fast,
Love without me cannot last.
Love, like Counsels of the Wise,
Must be hid from Vulgar Eyes.
'Tis holy, and we must conceal it,
They profane it, who reveal it.

Secresie:
One charming Night
Gives more delight,
Than a hundred lucky Days.
Night and I improve the tast,
Make the pleasure longer last,
A thousand, thousand several ways.

Sleep:
Hush, no more, be silent all,
Sweet Repose has clos'd her Eyes.
Soft as feather'd Snow does fall!
Softly, softly, steal from hence.
No noise disturb her sleeping sence.


Act III
If Love's a Sweet Passion, why does it torment?
If a Bitter, oh tell me whence comes my content?
Since I suffer with pleasure, why should I complain,
Or grieve at my Fate, when I know 'tis in vain?
Yet so pleasing the Pain, so soft is the Dart,
That at once it both wounds me, and tickles my Heart.

I press her Hand gently, look Languishing down,
And by Passionate Silence I make my Love known.
But oh! I'm Blest when so kind she does prove,
By some willing mistake to discover her Love.
When in striving to hide, she reveals all her Flame,
And our Eyes tell each other, what neither dares Name.

Ye Gentle Spirits of the Air, appear;
Prepare, and joyn your tender Voices here.
Cath, and repeat the Trembling Sounds anew,
Soft as her Sighs and sweet as pearly dew,
Run new Division, and such Measures keep,
As when you lull the God of Love asleep.
 

Coridon:
Now the Maids and the Men are making of Hay,
We h've left the dull Fools, and are stolen away.
Then Mopsa no more
Be Coy as before,
But let us merrily Play,
And kiss the sweet time away.

Mopsa:
Why, how now, Sir Clown, what makes you so bold?
I'd have ye to know I'm not made of that mold.
I tell you again,
Maids must never Kiss no Men.
No, no: no Kissing at all;
I'll not Kiss, till I Kiss you for good and all.

Coridon:
Not Kiss you at all?

Mopsa:
No, no, no Kissing at all!

Coridon:
Why no Kissing at all?

Mopsa:
I'll not Kiss, till I Kiss you for good and all.

Coridon:
Should you give me a score,
'Twould not lessen your store,
The bid me chearfully, chearfully Kiss,
And take, and take, my fill of your Bliss.

Mopsa:
I'll not trust you so far, I know you too well;
Should I give you aninch, you'd soon take an Ell.
The Lordlike you Rule,
And laugh as the Fool,
No, no, &c.

Coridon:
So small a Request,
You must not, you cannot, you shall not deny,
Not will I admit of another Reply.

Mopsa:
Nay, what do you mean?
O fie, fie, fie!
 

A Nymph:
When I have often heard young Maids complaining,
That when Men promise most they most deceive,
The I thought none of them worthy of my gaining;
And what they Swore, resolv'd ne're to believe.
But when so humbly he made his Addresses,
With Looks so soft, and with Language so kind,
I thought it Sin to refuse his Caresses;
Nature o'ercame, and I soon chang'd my Mind.
Should he employ all his wit in deceiving,
Stretch his Invetion, and artfully feign;
I find such Charms, such true Joy in believing,
I'll have the Pleasure, let him have the Pain.
If he proves Prejur'd, I shall not be Cheated,
He may deceive himself, but never me;
'Tis what I look for, and shan't be defeated,
For I'll be as false and inconstant as he.
 

A Thousand Thousand ways we'll find
To Entertain the Hours;
No Two shall e're be known so kind,
No Life so Blest as ours.


Act IV
One of the Attendants:
Now the Night is chac'd away,
All salute the rising Sun;
'Tis that happy, happy Day,
The Birth-Day of King Oberon.

Two Others:
Let the Fifes, and the Clarions, and shrill Trumpets sound,
And the Arch of high Heav'n the Clangor resound.
 

Phoebus:
When a Cruel long Winter has frozen the Earth,
And Nature Imprison'd seeks in vain to be free;
I dart forth my Beams, to give all things a Birth,
Making Spring for the Plants, every Flower, and each Tree.
'Tis I who give Life, Warmth, and Vigour to all,
Even Love who rules all things in Earth, Air, and Sea;
Would languish, and fade, and to nothing would fall,
The World to its Chaos would return, but for me.

Hail! Great Parent of us all,
Light and Comfort of the Earth;
Before your Shrine the Seasons fall,
Thou who givest all Nature Birth.

Spring:
Thus the ever Grateful Spring,
Does her yearly Tribute bring;
All your Sweets before him lay,
The round his Altar, Sing and Play.

Summer:
Here's the Summer, Sprightly, Gay,
Smiling, Wanton, Fresh and Fair;
Adorn'd with all the Flowers of May,
Whose various Sweets perfume the Air.

Autumn:
See my many Colour'd Fields
And loaded Trees my Will obey;
All the Fruit that Autumn yields,
I offer to the God od Day.

Winter:
Now Winter comes Slowly, Pale, Meager, and Old,
First trembling with Age, and then quiv'ring with Cold;
Benumb'd with hard Forsts, and with Snow covere'd o'ver,
Prays the Sun to Restore him, and Sings as before.


Act V
Juno:
Thrice happy Lovers, may you be
For ever, ever free,
From that tormenting Devil, Jealousie.
From all that anxious Care and Strife,
That attends a married Life;
Be to one another true,
Kind to her as she to you,
And since the errors of this Night are past,
May he be ever Constant, she for ever Chast.
O let me weep, for ever weep,
My Eyes no more shall welcome Sleep;
I'll hide me from the sight of Day,
And sigh, and sigh my Soul away.
He's gone, he's gone, his loss deplore;
And I shall never see him more.

A Chinese Man:
Thus the gloomy World
At first began to shine,
And from the Power Divine
A Glory round about it hurl'd;
Which made it bright,
And gave it Birth in light.
Then were all Minds as pure,
As those Ethereal Streams;
In Innocence secure,
Not Subject to Extreams.
There was no Room then for empty Fame,
No cause for Pride, Ambition wanted aim.

Chinese Woman:
Thus Happy and Free,
Thus treated are we
With nature's chiefest Delights.
We nover cloy,
But renew our Joy,
And one Bliss another Invites.

Chorus:
Thus wildly we live,
Thus freely we give,
What Heaven as freely bestows.
We were not made
For Labour and Trade,
Which Fools on each other impose.

Chinese Man:
Yes, Daphne, in your Looks I find
The Charms by which my Heart's betray'd;
Then let not your Disdain unbind
The Prisoner that your Eyes have made.
She that in Love makes least Defence,
Wounds ever with the surest Dart;
Beauty may captivate the Sense,
But Kindness only gains the Heart.

1st Woman:
Har how all things with one Sound rejoyce,
And the World seems to have one voice.

2nd> Woman:
Hark now the Echoing Air a Triumph Sings,
And all around pleas'd Cupids clap their Wings.

Chorus:
Hark! Hark!

2nd Woman:
Sure the dull God of Marriage does not hear;

Both:
We'll rouse him with a Charm, Hymen appear!

Chorus:
Hymen appear!

Both:
Our Queen of Night commands thee not to stay, Appear!

Hymen:
See, see, I obey.
My torch has long been out, I hate
On loose dissembled Vows to wait,
Where hardly Love out-lives the Wedding-Night,
False Flames, Love's Meteors, yield my Torch no Light.

Both Women:
Turn then thine Eyes upon those Glories there,
And catching Flames will on thy Torch appear.

Hymen:
My Torch, indeed, will from such Brightness shine:
Love ne'er had yet such Altars, so divine.
 

They shall be as happy as they're fair;
Love shall fill all the Places of Care:
And every time the Sun shall display his Rising Light,
It shall be to them a new Wedding-Day;
And when he sets, a new Nuptial-Night.