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Purcell - The Fairy Queen / English National Opera

3.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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(Nov 28, 2000)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Based on an incident in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen is extraordinarily beautiful and contains some of the most inspired arias penned for the English language. David Pountney's production for the English National Opera is a spectacular offering as phantasmagorical as the enchanted dreams in the magical moonlit woods. The tale is a joyful fusion of music, dance and comedy which brings alive the splendor of the Baroque for a modern audience. Thomas Randle, Simon Rice, Richard Van Allan, Yvonne Kenny. 133 minutes.

Henry Purcell wrote only one opera, Dido and Aeneas, in a form that would be called operatic today. Other Purcell works that bear the operatic label, including The Fairy Queen and King Arthur, are actually masques or pageants, royal divertissements that sadly illustrate the decline of English drama during the late 17th century. Being the work of Purcell, The Fairy Queen has a lot of musical value. Its melodies are fresh and lilting, and its rhythms have a distinctive sparkle and vitality. Purcell's brilliantly baroque imagination was allowed to run wild in embroidering themes inspired (rather remotely, to be sure) by the fairyland fantasies of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Yvonne Kenny, Janis Kelly, Mary Hegarty, Simon Rice, Yvonne Barclay
  • Directors: Barrie Gavin
  • Writers: William Shakespeare
  • Format: Classical, Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: November 28, 2000
  • Run Time: 134 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004Z4VQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,398 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Purcell - The Fairy Queen / English National Opera" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Margaret M. Duffy on July 11, 2003
Format: DVD
Purcell has for a long time been one of my favorite composers and I have always found it sad that his musical plays are not more frequently staged. However, this production bears out the statement of an opera singer friend that too often contemporary directors ruin good operas. Musically and vocally this production is very good, but the visual production is very distracting. It is perhaps inevitable that, given the fact that the action is largely in the form of the masque, there would be a very large dance component. This in itself is not problematic. However, when one of the principal singing characters (Oberon) seems to have been chosen more for his athletic/dance capabilities than for his vocal ones, one has to question the agenda. Also, sets and business were frequently incomprehensible. And, although as others have said, there does appear to be a particular social agenda being pushed, much of it was just simply silly and rather stupid.
After seeing this production, I wish even more strongly for a production that would be fearless enough to do this work in an antiquarian style, so that we might have an idea of what Purcell's original audiences saw. A beautiful example of such a production is one of the 2002 production of Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo" under the direction of Jordi Savall from the BBC. Let's hope that Purcell will eventually get a similar treatment.
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Format: DVD
I must say - I read the predominately hostile reviews here with some surprise.
Henry Purcell has long been regarded as England's greatest composer. His range was broad - from music of great majesty and solemnity at one extreme to bawdy drinking songs at the other. The masques, such as THE FAIRY QUEEN, THE INDIAN QUEEN and KING ARTHUR are firmly placed at the lighter end of the scale.
Note; I'm not saying that the masques are necessarily trivial or uninspired. There are beautiful things in them all. But they were first and foremost designed as entertainments.
It made perfect sense, then, for David Pountney to stage THE FAIRY QUEEN in an essentially playful manner. The set designs, the costumes, the choreography, the cross-casting all conform to this lets-have-fun approach.
As I say in the summary, perhaps you have to be English to appreciate it. There is a long tradition in the English theatre of whimsy, of gender confusion and a particular kind of melancholy which matches the English character.
But - and it's a big but - this production, while it has all kinds of fun with the staging, treats the music with the respect it deserves. The singing and playing are both fine and the sound remarkably good considering that this is a taping of a live performance. Titania's Plaint is especially fine with the beautiful oboe playing setting off the lyrics to perfection.
Please - this is not Grand Opera. It's meant to be enjoyed on a less formal basis than that, and this DVD succeeds in communicating that enjoyment to the viewer.
Technically, the sound (LPCM in the UK) on this DVD is fine and the visuals (transferred from 16:9 HDTV) reasonable considering the circumstances under which it was taped.
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Format: DVD

I recently purchased this DVD and watched it last evening and I'm still reacting to it in a very positive way! It was a glorious mixture of art and dance and singing and comedy.

Based on an incident in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,it is held together with some of the most inspired and beautiful arias penned for the English language. At first one attempts to be logical and follow the "story" which is really not obvious or important. It consists of 9 Masques portraying various scenarios interwoven with the beautiful songs of Purcell sung with much skill and enthusiasm by the chorus as well as the many soloists.

I was delighted by Michael Chance's intermittent roles which fortunately included his uniquely lovely voice. The duet at the beginning of part two featuring Chance (Mopsa) and Jonathan Best (the drunken poet) is absolutely priceless humour. Having followed Chance's career for 20 years I was amazed to see him in a comedy role, and I liked it!

Thomas Randle in the role of Oberon was memorable in his singing as well as his facility to move with grace and ease. Yvonne Kenny as the tyranical Titania was marvelously domineering over a somewhat 'hen-pecked'Oberon. Puck (played by Simon Rice)was very convincing as the chief mischief maker.

I think the entire Opera is great!!!! BUT do not expect to enjoy it unless you have a well-developed sense of humor; for it is tongue-in-cheek humour that is reflected in the scenery, the costuming; even the dance itself; and the music of Purcell suits it very well.The entire production brings alive the splendour of the Baroque for a modern audience.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
One of the chief reasons I ordered this was because of Henry Purcell's music. I have listened to excerpts of this piece practically all my life. Sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie, but not in this case. Without having any knowledge of the Fairy Queen, I set the DVD menu to digital Dolby 5.1 and pressed play. After watching the first ten minutes of the bare-propped stage and all the dancing performers, I was beginning to think the Fairy Queen was a modern ballet, and not an opera! It's actually a play, which makes sense in that the story is based on an incident from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I also initially thought this was going to be like another Peter Sellars contemporary interpretation of a classic work, but was soon proven wrong. This is a "fairy tale" - set to a fusion of fabulous baroque music with arias and chorus, dance and comedy. As quoted from the NY Times . . . "It's exhilarating, funny, romantic, sexy, and enormously invigorating". And, it incorporates superb audio and video! Essential criteria for me! This is presented in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio which works extremely well for the majority of standard screens, and is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. Buy it! You'll love it,...
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