30 Jan 2010

PURCELL: The Fairy-Queen

The Fairy-Queen: Semi-opera in five acts.

Music composed by Henry Purcell. Libretto anonymously adapted from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

First Performance: 2 May 1692, Queen’s Theatre, Dorset Garden, London.

Drunken Poet Bass
First Fairy Soprano
Second Fairy Soprano
Night Soprano
Mystery Soprano
Secrecy Countertenor
Sleep Bass
Corydon Bass
Mopsa Soprano/Countertenor
Nymph Soprano
3 Attendants to Oberon 1 Soprano, 2 Countertenors
Phoebus Tenor
Spring Soprano
Summer Countertenor
Autumn Tenor
Winter Bass
Juno Soprano
Chinese Man Countertenor
Chinese Woman, Daphne Soprano
Hymen Bass


Act 1

The first scene set to music occurs after Titania has left Oberon, following an argument over the ownership of a little Indian boy. Two of her fairies sing of the delights of the countryside (“Come, come, come, come, let us leave the town”). A drunken, stuttering poet enters, singing “Fill up the bowl”. The stuttering has led many to believe the scene is based on the habits of Thomas d’Urfey. However, it may also be poking fun at Elkanah Settle, who stuttered as well and was long thought to be the librettist, due to an error in his 1910 biography.

The fairies mock the drunken poet and drive him away.

Act 2

It begins after Oberon has ordered Puck to anoint the eyes of Demetrius with the love-juice. Titania and her fairies merrily revel (“Come all ye songsters of the sky”), and Night (“See, even Night”), Mystery (“I am come to lock all fast”), Secrecy (“One charming night”) and Sleep (“Hush, no more, be silent all”) lull them asleep and leave them to pleasant dreams.

Act 3

Titania has fallen in love with Bottom (now equipped with his ass’ head), much to Oberon’s gratification. A Nymph sings of the pleasures and torments of love (“If love’s a sweet passion”) and after several dances, Titania and Bottom are entertained by the foolish, loving banter of two haymakers, Corydon and Mopsa.

Act 4

It begins after Titania has been freed from her enchantment, commencing with a brief divertissement to celebrate Oberon’s birthday (“Now the Night”, and the abovementioned “Let the fifes and the clarions”), but for the most part it is a masque of the god Phoebus (“When the cruel winter”) and the Four Seasons (Spring; “Thus, the ever grateful spring”, Summer; ”Here’s the Summer”, Autumn; “See my many coloured fields”, and Winter; ”Now Winter comes slowly”).

Act 5

After Theseus has been told of the lovers’s adventures in the wood, it begins with the goddess Juno singing an epithalamium, “Thrice happy lovers”, followed by a woman who sings the well–known “The Plaint” (“O let me weep”). A Chinese man and woman enter singing several songs about the joys of their world. (“Thus, the gloomy world”, “Thus happy and free” and “Yes, Xansi”). Two other Chinese women summon Hymen, who sings in praise of married bliss, thus uniting the wedding theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the celebration of William and Mary’s anniversary.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the complete text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Prelude to The Fairy Queen — Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Conducted by William Christie: