29 August 2012

Pucell's The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne (2012)

When I saw this production back in 2009 I wrote, "I guess that means I will be going to the revival in a few years time." And that prophecy came true.

The purpose of the second visit was to try and catch more of the complex production that hard far more in it than I could take in at my first sitting and I spent most of the evening saying to myself that I did not remember that bit from the last time.

Anticipating the same problem again I took a few notes in the bar immediately afterwards. I thought it unwise to try to do so during the performance.

It is hard to classify The Fairy Queen, other than to say that it is not an opera.

It opens with an extended spoken piece that explains the main story. Girl A and Boy B love each other but A's father insists that she marries Boy C who also loves her and is loved by Girl D.

Clearly the two couple are going to get together happily and it is just a question of how they get there.

Not helping too much are the faeries Oberon and Titania who have some troubles themselves, hence Titania finding herself in love with a former servant who is now a donkey.

There are more spoken words after the music and singing have started as attempts are made to explain what is going on. There is little point in this as what is going on is madness and of little consequence.

Instead it is better to treat The Fairy Queen for what it is, a collection of loosely connected scenes that mix words, music and dance. The posh word for this is masque.

The dancing made more of an impression on me this time and I found it beautiful.

It was there for a lot of the production but often just as a touch of colour at the back of the stage or a short fill-in while something on the set was moved. Even then it was captivating.

There were usually just two dancers (and no more than six) and their modern dance made extravagant shapes out of their bodies. There was also a lot of impressive tumbling and rolling that made no sound.

The main point of this production of The Fairy Queen (forget the plot) is ribald humour. Carry On Faeries if you like.

In one scene we see an innocent Adam and Eve wearing just a few fig leaves then Eve eats that apple and starts to get flirty. She shares her apple with another cast member and the flirting spreads.

In another a man and a woman emerge from a haystack and than man makes his intentions towards the woman very clear and he is not at all put off by the fact that the woman is so clearly a man.

We have another man playing a woman when the cleaners do their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. The point is driven home when one of Thisbe's false breasts falls out and rolls towards the orchestra.

One of the scenes takes us through the four seasons and Summer is also a man dressed as a woman. Incidentally this is quickly forgotten when Winter arrives and delivers a beautiful song.

And there are the bonking bunnies too. They are only on for a short while but are the icons of this production. So much so that two of them were seen wandering the gardens during the long interval and the conductor took his bow at the end with a bunny costume under his black jacket.

One of the starts of the show is the staging. Bit of the stage rise and sink, people fly through the sky and one fights his way along the front row of the stalls. It is busy and clever and keeps you totally immersed through what is quite a long performance.

The humour runs thick and deep through the evening and there is a lot of genuine laughter from the full house. Then the highlight of the evening hits you like a lottery win. The song "O let me weep" is slow, mournful and very very beautiful. It ends slowly too and the audience is left stunned and in such a sense of reverence that clapping is not considered despite being fully deserved.

The time for clapping comes at the end and it comes eagerly bringing foot stamping with it.

Whatever The Fairy Queen is it is a good one of those and I am so glad that I went to see it again.

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