No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Opera review: The Fairy Queen, Brighton Theatre Royal, 19.05.06

Purcell's The Fairy Queen -- not so much an opera as a series of interludes, written to fit between the scenes of Shakespeare's play -- is a favourite of mine. I fell in love with the ENO production that featured punk fairies, Oberon in a red velvet frock coat and leather trousers, and plenty of rats and bats. Armonico Consort's production was completely different, thought-provoking and marvellous and unsettling.

The production is set in a mental hospital: instead of fairies teasing and manipulating mortals, it's doctors and nurses manipulating (and abetting) the patients. According to the programme, the company was greatly influenced by Richard Dadd (painter of The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke, and himself a long-term resident in Bedlam). Even the puppets in the 'Chinese' scene -- wonderfully, er, puppeteered by two of the singers -- have faces drawn from a Dadd painting.

I've never watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I'm told there's considerable influence from that too: the empty bed on the ward, the patients dancing ...

There wasn't a duff voice in the cast, and all played their parts credibly and compellingly -- the drunken poet frolicking amid the audience; one of the tenors throwing arms wide, beaming, in the exuberant 'Let the pipes and the clarions'; the nurses humouring 'King Oberon'. Add two gifted and agile dancers, and two stunning aerialists, and the result is more compelling than one has any right to expect of Baroque opera.


  1. Anonymous12:03 am

    I completely missed the Dadd references. I wish I'd read the programme now!

    I'm so happy you enjoyed the production; I was worried that nothing would live up to the punk fairies for you :) Oh, and it was so very Brighton!


  2. I listened to a recording of The Fairy Queen yesterday, and I'm convinced that there was significant rearrangement of the songs. 'May the God of wit inspire', the song with the echoes in it, was towards the end, whereas on the recording I have it's early in Act II. Does that seem right to you?