Lovers of the Bard should be warned, however, that not a single line of Shakespeare's masterpiece has been set to Purcell's music in this adaptation. For its revival in 1692, Shakespeare's text was considered not good enough. The play was rewritten, probably by the profoundly forgettable Elkanah Settle. The plot was altered, and characters and incidents added (nymphs, shepherds, a Chinese man and woman, the God of Marriage, the four seasons personified, and even a dance of monkeys). The text was spoken, not sung, except for long, elaborately staged musical extravaganzas (bearing little thematic relation to Shakespeare's text) that were tacked on at the end of each of the play's five acts. These songs, dances, and choruses--more than two hours of them--are the content of the English National Opera's production of The Fairy Queen.
No effort has been made--wisely--to preserve any plot or other form of thematic coherence. The numbers are simply presented as a sort of mildly erotic variety show. There is a recurring cast of characters, including supernatural beings, humans, and animals. Costumes and props are wildly eclectic, ranging from modern realism to antiquarian fantasy. The attraction of this production lies in its skilled combination of baroque music and modern dance, both performed deftly and working together more smoothly than might have been expected. --Joe McLellan