4 July 2009

Pucell's The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne

The first (of four) trips to Glyndebourne this year was to see Purcell's The Fairy Queen, loosely based on A Midsummer's Night Dream.

June is sometimes an awkward month to go to Glyndebourne as the weather can be cold and wet, or hot and sunny. The day we went rain was forecast so we got there early to claim one of the picnic benches in the opera house complex. These have the advantages of being very close to the opera of being under cover while still exposed to the outside to retain that picnic feel.

The rain kept away before the opera started so there was plenty of time to enjoy a traditional stroll around the garden.

There are quite a few changes to the gardens this year with some sight lines being opened up to better connect the various sections of the garden.

The main beneficiary of this is the small sunken garden that used to be dark and gloomy but which now flows towards the wild flower garden and the side lawn.

Also looking much better is the former rose garden that is now home to some smart trees and which provides a wonderful frame to the view of the Henry Moore statue that stands proudly to the East of the opera house.

The picnic and the garden and succulent additions to a visit to Glyndebourne but the opera is the main reason for going and The Fairy Queen proved to be a very rewarding feast. It is not an opera in the more modern sense, being a mix of spoken word, singing, acting and dancing, and the staging and direction play to this mix exceedingly well. The production is clever, lively, dramatic, sensitive and fun (as in "laugh out loud").

This picture of the cast, taking a well deserved ovation, gives some idea of the complexity, i.e. the sheer number of players, and of the fun, yes that is a rabbit outfit in the bottom-left corner.

The music was provided by The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment which is clearly a good thing as 1) they are a very good orchestra and 2) they use period instruments to more accurately present the music in its original form, i.e. as the composer wanted it to be heard.

Not being an opera in the more familiar sense, there are few stand-out singing parts but the aria O Let me Weep stole the show and was a wonderfully poignant moment provided by a solo singer on an empty stage that was even better for the stark contrast to the normal hustle and bustle of a stage full of fairies in sharp suits and wicked wings.

The rich production had so many nice and detailed touches that you probably have to see the production several times to appreciate it all. I guess that means I will be going to the revival in a few years time.

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