Purcell? you won't find him here
Robert Baksa | new york state | 05/17/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I can scarcely articulate my dissapointment in this production. I could not even watch more than half of it. I'm used to hearing the composer's wonderful theater songs sung with minimal accompaniment so that the words are intelligible. In this presentation only about 10% of the lyrics come through. Yvonne Kenny, a major singer for many years seems an anomoly in this stage full of gyrating young dancers. The late Richard Van Allen seems even more so. Does he sing in this production? I didn't watch it long enought to find out. Tom Randle does a creditable job in the Pinnock DVD of Tammerlano but here his voice seems totally out of control.
Of course, this is some kind of Masque and not an opera but I still felt let down. The choreography is somewhere between Bob Fosse and Tyla Tharp...totally at odds with the music. Singing, that is serious singing which we define as "classical" is a very difficult art to master. Try carrying on a conversation while someone is caressing your private parts. Like as not you will somewhat distracted. Can you imagine what the singer feels like having to keep up with the musical requirements as well as singing with proper support while being fondled? Directors who ask for this kind of nonsense are totally insensitive to anything but their own need to provide titilation to the audience, who, if they cannot enjoy the music (and dancing) on its own merit, shouldn't be there. People don't simulate singing when they are having sex; why should singers have to simulate having sex while they are singing. Things can be implied without being actually shown. Some of us are adults I believe. I for one find that overt sexuality greatly detracts from concentrating on the music. One of the earliest English masters, Purcell is poorly served by this travesty. Based on others reviewers opinions of this staging I was prepared to like it. Intead I found it utterly tasteless.
A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 01/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"WITH A HEY AND A HO AND A HA HA HA!!
The Fairy Queen, one of Purcell's grandest creations, is a fantastic blend of magic, mystery, passion and just plain nonsence - both profoundly moving and entertaining in turn. Based very loosely on Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream', Henry Purcell's 'Fairy Queen' was composed in 1691/92. and remains without doubt one of his greatest works adding his magic and wit and sensuality to that of the play. This semi-opera contains some of the most seductive melodies of the Baroque Period. Purcell's tunes bring an instant smile of delight; 'it's love at first sound!'
Purcell rejected Shakespeare's words in favor of an anonymous libretto loosely based on situations of Shakespeare's play. It would be difficult to deduce plot or characterizations from the libretto alone and although the music is a continuous joy, it is an imaginative feat to think of this work as a convincing dramatic narrative today.
The first act consists of fairies pinching and tormenting a drunken poet. The second act meditates on the misunderstandings of the lost pair of lovers in Shakespeare's play and rhapsodizes on night, sleep and mystery. The third is a bucolic romp in which the drunken poet (Jonathan Best,bass) chases after Mopsa (Michael Chance, Countertenor) who is either a female or 'gay' - you decide. The fourth act is a panorama of the seasons and the fifth an inexplicable Chinese pantomime; albeit which includes some of the best-known oft recorded music in this work: 'Hark! The Echoing Air', for one. However, most of these songs have been recorded by other singers on solo albums, especially countertenors.
Upon listening to it for the first time, one attempts to be logical and follow the 'story' which is really not obvious or important, and really gets in the way of enjoying it all. The Five Act encompass nine Masques portraying various scenarios interwoven with the beautiful songs of Purcell, sung with much skill and enthusiasm by the chorus (which includes the soloists) as well as the soloists in their individual roles (some have more than one).
Thomas Randle as Oberon was memorable in his singing as well as his dancing. Yvonne Kenny, as the tyrannical Titania' was agessively domineering over a somewhat 'hen-pecked' Oberon. Puck, portrayed by Simon Rice, was a delight as Shakespeare's mischief maker.
I was thoroughly entertained by Michael Chance's roles and especially that of Mopsa the 'gay' mortal who was pursued by Jonathan Best, the drunken poet. Chance's rich full-bodied voice was a joy to hear, as was Best's booming bass.
A quote from the London Times concerning this production: 'It's exhilarating, funny, romantic, sexy...enormously invigorating.'
I enjoyed it tremendously, but you must have a well-developed sense of humor and throw logic out the window. In truth, not only is it a musical treat it's definitely wonderful visual entertainment with its dancing, and colorful costumes (some very unusual, indeed) and the varied and quite different sets!
This is a reissue of the 1995 production, and is now available at a reasonable price.
Baroque Beach Blanket Babylon
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 07/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fairies and Queens there are, in sprightly abundance, in this extravagant, gaudy and tawdry production of Henry Purcell's masque adaptation of themes from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Knowing your Shakespeare is perhaps the only chance anyone now - or in Purcell's lifetime - would have for making narrative sense of the dances and ditties that comprise the nine scenes of The Fairy Queen. There's the quarrel between Oberon and Titania over possession of the pretty Indian boy. There are the mortal lovers lost and discombobulated in the magic forest. There's the donkey's-head lover, and there's Puck acting ever-puckish. Beyond that, it really doesn't matter; neither the music nor the stagecraft bears serious reflection. Besides, as the packaging declares, "It's sung in English!" Mind you, singing in English is an oxymoron. Viewer-listeners with a left-brain fixation on 'meaning' may well find the absence of subtitles distressing. I know the text from previous readings of it but I couldn't pick out more than half the words, despite the insistent repetition of phrases. Did it matter? Not much. This was, and is, a bubbly bauble for the pleasure of epicene aristocrats.
Thomas Randle, as Obregon, has the daunting task of singing well enough, dancing passably, and acting superbly; his jealous tantrums, after all, are the force that spurs all the confusion. His sidekick Puck, danced and acted wittily by Simon Rice, has not a single word of text to deliver, but if he were to speak, he'd likely declaim "Lo, what fools these opera-lovers be!" The fairy courts are effectively divided between athletic dancers and cross-dressing singers, all of the highest skill. The Mortals are a bawdy bunch, singing lustily and craftily and bungling their amorous impulses amusingly. Alto Michael Chance, as a 'gentle', and bass Jonathan Best, as the Drunken Poet, deliver some of the musical highlights as well as the humorous lowlights. Soprano Yvonne Kenny, as the Fairy Queen Titania, sings artfully but remains an oddly incongruous stage presence. Her costumes are strangely becoming, and her movements are stiff and proper, even when she's engaged in caressing that Indian Boy. It's as if she disdained the antics of her consort Oberon and her court, and found a clause in her contract that allowed her to sing without acting, ignoring stage director David Pountney's nonsense completely. Once again, does it matter? A little, but not enough to spoil the fun.
If your interest is to hear the musical divertissements of Henry Purcell sung and played virtuosically, you may well detest this staged bedlam. A CD performance will suit you better. If you're not uncomfortable with vulgar humor, gender-bending, and silliness, you'll find that this production is a fanciful blend of excellent music and dance with creative foolery."