opera The Fairy Queen Crass? Vulgar? Magic! Nick Kimberley on ENO's dream production of Purcell
Saturday 21 October 1995
The Fairy Queen was written as a sequence of masques to be inserted into a performance of a bowdlerised text of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and estimates of how long a complete performance would run vary between four and six hours. That's rather longer than we feel comfortable with these days, nor would we take too well to hearing what was done to Shakespeare's text back in 1692. Yet a performance within the original play is not quite right either.
Something has to be done if The Fairy Queen is to have a stage-life and Pountney does it. All of it. Just as Purcell's masques sometimes relate to Shakespeare, at other times go their own merry way, so Pountney devises a story for the masques to tell, a story blending Shakespeare, Purcell and Pountney in unequal measure. Men dress up as women, poets get drunk and try to take over the conductor's podium and - you're not going to believe this - the fairy queen herself falls in love with a donkey. With a seething mass of non-singing supplementals, choreographed by Quinny Sacks, the eye is never sure what to watch, but Pountney's showmanship ensures that, wherever we look, there is something worth seeing.
Titania (Yvonne Kenny) and Oberon (Thomas Randle) argue over the Indian Boy (the dancer Arthur Pita) while all around them all kinds of amorous mayhem break out. Jonathan Best's Drunken Poet, a masterpiece of exact comic observation, is not too far gone to attract Michael Chance's Dick; Janet and John get it on; and only Richard Van Allan's Theseus, a "curmudgeon" bearing a marked resemblance to Michael Tippett, seems unwilling to join in the fun.
It's all a long way from authentic baroquerie, yet the spectacle's sheer exuberance might not have gone amiss at the Dorset Garden Theatre 300- odd years ago. Robert Israel's sets and Dunya Ramicova's Carry On Camping costumes play their part and Quinny Sacks's choreography keeps the comic heart pumping. None of it would work if the performers were anything less than completely committed.
The cast list runs to a page-and-a-half in the programme and there wasn't a dull performance to be seen: Pountney is a dab hand at rallying huge numbers. Not all the singing was as crisp as modern Purcellian practice demands and Nicholas Kok's conducting sometimes allowed the rhythms to slacken, but all of that will improve as the run progresses. Just when Purcell was in danger of being embalmed as National Heritage, this riotous production comes to rescue him from that fate far worse than death.
In repertoire to 23 Nov at ENO, London Coliseum, WC2. Booking: 0171- 632 8300
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 2 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 3 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 4 News agency criticised for describing Amal Clooney as 'actor's wife' in coverage of human rights trial
- 5 David De Gea to Real Madrid: Real finally get their man with £29m bid for Manchester United goalkeeper
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet: Technician quits after social media row with actor's fans
Evian Christ cancels Reading festival appearance after being 'trapped in a cage' at Leeds by staff
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn