The Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Monday 23 July 2012
When Glyndebourne invited Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown to realise Purcell’s ‘semi-opera’ The Fairy Queen, it was with slight trepidation, as they had no idea how this amalgam of Purcell’s music and filletings from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream would go down.
Both men are loose cannons, and the piece is uncategorisable, with too many masques and too much talk to qualify as opera in the conventional sense. But the result was the most splendidly off-the-wall creation this sedate establishment had ever seen, creating worlds beyond worlds with flying horses, giant cascades, and references to Max Ernst and The Lord of the Rings, and including in its climactic masque a stage-full of inventively-copulating rabbits. The show’s one weakness lay in the sections of spoken dialogue: whenever actors came on in place of the singers, the temperature dropped perceptibly.
With the Baroque maestro Laurence Cummings now at the helm things have settled marvellously, and the spoken sections have as much fizz as the musical ones. Fuelled by lust and disgust, the fights among the mismatched lovers carry a powerful comic charge, while the mechanicals - initially encountered as an army of squeegee-wielding window cleaners, before they scramble into drag - are a pantomime in themselves; the regal dignity of Penny Downie’s Titania makes her sensual infatuation with Christopher Benjamin’s Bottom all the more amusing, while Jotham Annan is a lithe and charismatic Puck.
Supported by the brilliance of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and by Kim Brandstrup’s discreetly inventive choreography, and drawing strength from the beauty and mischief of Brown’s designs - who else would have a chaste Cranach-naked Eve take a bite out of her apple and turn into a pole-dancer? - the young singers give an inspired ensemble display.
David Soar’s delivery of Winter’s aria has magnificent resonance, while Carolyn Sampson - whose voice and presence are always recognisable, no matter what her disguise - provides three blissful moments of transcendence. The first comes with her paean to sleep, as Titania hangs immobilised and drugged in a giant spider’s web; the second is her hymn to harvest, with the third being a heart-stopping performance of ‘O, let me weep’.
But in this wonderful show, which ends with the audience being showered with heart-shaped petals, no sadness lasts for long.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food