Prior to Handel’s arrival in London, and the influence of Italian opera that he brought with him, English opera was known as ‘semi opera’ – a blend of drama, music, spoken word, elaborate stage sets, costumes and special effects. Roger North, a contemporary observer, described the genre rather disparagingly, complaining: ‘Some come for the play and hate the musick, others come onely for the musick, and the drama is penance to them, and scarce any are well reconciled to both’. However,‘semi opera’ nevertheless inspired Purcell to compose some remarkable theatre music, with The Fairy Queen his masterpiece in the genre.
This semi-opera is based somewhat freely on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and was given its premiere at the Dorset Garden Theatre, London in 1692. The performance was a huge success, and went through a successful revision, before the score mysteriously vanished. In 1701, six years after Purcell’s death, a reward was announced for its return. However, it was 200 years before the music was finally recovered in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in 1903.
The Fairy Queen contains some of Purcell’s finest music, and the masques at the end of each act stand out as masterpieces of Baroque opera.The magical world of Titania and Oberon is superbly evoked by the music – night, winter, sleep, love, magic and comedy are all brilliantly realised in highly atmospheric settings.
• Recorded in 2001.
• Includes booklet note and opera synopsis.
• Libretto available for download.