O Showes! Showes! Mighty Showes!
The Eloquence of Masques! What need of prose?
What indeed, and what need of anyone other than ENO
to bring us this absolute explosion of joy; this was a complete company
show, offering to those of us fortunate to call ourselves regulars,
such delights as seeing the baritone we last heard in a sober Verdi
role cavorting in sprightly mein bedecked in faery spangles. The ‘American
Tourist’ overheard at either ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Tosca’ (take your pick) opining
‘It’s more of a PLAY / OPERA than a SHOW, isn’t it?’ would not be so
disappointed here, for this ‘Entertainment in Three Parts and Nine Masques’
could not possibly fail to please even those unaccustomed to opera,
and for those whose artistic palates are jaded by dull singing and aimless
direction, it offers the rare joy of truly accomplished performance
and a production that delights the senses.
I saw it first time around in 1995, and I am certain
that this revival has resulted in an even more delectably camp approach,
with the Fairies presented even more obviously as denizens of a dangerously
exotic other – world and the sense of androgyny pervading over all –
delicious. Dunya Ramicova’s costumes, now daringly exiguous, now superbly
baroque, led the way in suggesting these entrancing, magical worlds
of the imagination, and they formed part of a complete artistic endeavour
within which every singer and dancer displayed the most total commitment.
Tom Randle has made the part of Oberon his own, and
whilst his voice is not the most absolutely beautiful Purcellian sound,
it would be difficult to find another tenor who could fulfil all the
role’s requirements with such style, quite apart from looking so good
in those tight leather trousers. He sang ‘Thus the gloomy World’ with
real fire, and his acting and movement are at the level of straight
theatre. His Fairy Queen was Joan Rodgers, who sang her ‘Plaint’ very
beautifully indeed, although earlier in the evening I found her diction
rather cloudy. She looks fabulous in her costumes and makes absolute
sense of all she has to do, even when it has the potential for embarrassment.
As always with ENO, the principals were not merely
brightly lit personages behind whom all else was in shadow, since there
was some world class singing on stage from many individuals, notably
Carolyn Sampson, Christopher Josey, Mary Nelson, Ryland Angel and Jonathan
Best. Carolyn Sampson was first heard here as Amor in ‘Poppea’ and she
is well known as a concert singer; her performance in the ‘Birthday’
scene was treasurable in every way, and she delivered her music with
real taste and feeling. The counter – tenors Christopher Josey and Ryland
Angel contributed an absolutely hilarious ‘Let the Fife and the Clarions’
as ‘The Duettes,’ and Josey also sang elegantly as the initially reluctant
Dick, the amour of Jonathan Best’s endearingly besotted Drunken Poet,
who sang ‘Hush, no more’ most beautifully. Mary Nelson and Gail Pearson
gave their all as Phoebus and Spring, and mention must be made of Mark
le Brocq’s delectable impersonation of Autumn as a blowsy ‘WI Fete lady’
in contrast to his wonderfully camp Boggart.
So many talents were on show here, in dancing as much
as singing, and those who saw the production first time around will
have been delighted to experience once more the exquisitely languid
Indian Boy of Arthur Pita; Nikolas Kafetzakis was an athletic, mellifluous,
totally engrossing Puck, and Martha Wildman an exciting, challenging
Assipattle. In the pit, Paul Daniel directed with real sensitivity and
assurance; what a difference to his recent ‘Valkyrie,’ where he seemed
ill at ease and under – prepared; Purcell’s music may appear all elegant
lightness and grace, but Daniel rightly understood that it is made of
much more than that, and the shaping of such pieces as Titania’s lament,
so closely resembling ‘When I Am Laid in Earth,’ and the wonderful ‘Now
the Night is chased away’ served to remind us of the composer’s greatness.
The pared – down orchestra was perfectly suited to provide what must
surely have been Purcell’s desired texture, that of an adapted string
quartet, and the playing was a delight from beginning to end.
‘Hark! hark, the echo’ing air a triumph sings…’ -
it certainly does, and with this ‘Fairy Queen’ the ENO has a major one
on its hands. Unmissable.
and Indian Boy