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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
King Arthur or The British Worthy - a semi-opera in five acts to a libretto by John Dryden (1691)
Isabel Rey, soprano; Barbara Bonney, soprano; Birgit Remmert, alto; Michael Schade, tenor; Oliver Widmer, baritone.
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor/Rupert Huber
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, July 2004. DDD
EUROARTS DVD 2054509 [74:00 + 95:00]

Opening [0:26]
No.2 Overture [1:57]
Hier ist's, wo sie ihr heindnisch Wesen treiben [9:59]
No.4 Overture [1:34]
Act I

Wotan, hore uns! [5:24]
No.5 Woden, first to thee [8:56]
No.6 The White Horse neigh'd aloud
No.7 The lot is cast
No.9 I call ye all

Der heisse, rote Saft der Opfer trankt die Erde [1:17]
No.10 Come if you dare [3:15]
No.11 First Act Tune

Act II

's ist Krieg! 's ist Krieg!" [1:26]
No.3 Air [0:45]
Wer bist du, Geist, wes Namens und von welcher Art? [5:46]
No.12 Hither this way [2:17]
Wohin nun fuhrt der Weg? [0:58]
No.13 Let not a moon-born elf mislead ye [1:45]
No.14 Hither this way

Warum zieht dies Gezirpe sie nur an? [0:44]
No.15 Come follow me [3:45]
Du kannst dich noch so fien und fromm verkleiden [4:16]
No.16 How blest are shepherds [4:23]
No.17 Shepherd, shepherd, lead up

Mein Arthur, sprich, bist du zuruck [8:09]
No.18 Chaconne [3:34]

No.19 Second Act Tune: Air [1:12]

Der Weg bis hierher ist gesichert [7:25]
We must work, we must haste [2:38]
Thus, thus I infuse

Emmeline! [7:02]
No.41 You say, tis love [5:35]
Mein Furst, riskant war es, so lang zu bleiben [5:15]
The Frost Scene [6:31]
No.20 Prelude
No.21 What ho, thou genius of this isle
No.22 What power art thou
No.23 Thou doting fool
No.24 Great love, I know thee now
No.25 No part of my dominion
No.26 Prelude [10:06]
No.27 See, see, we assemble
No.28 Tis I, tis, that have warm'd ye
No.29 Sound a parley
No.28a Tis love, tis love

Gern erkenn ich deine Kunste an [3:29]
No.30 Third Act Tune: Hornpipe [0:38]
Act IV

Merlin's Intermezzo [3:30]
Arthur, ich hab uberall gesucht [3:01]
Oh, was kommt denn da? [3:53]
No.31 Two daughters of this aged stream

Mir riesen Wonneschauer durch die Adern [5:03]
No.33 Fourth Act Tune: Air [0:37]
Act V

Verlucht! Grimbald gefangen und der Wald entzaubert [1:16]
No.43 St George, the patron of our isle! [1:43]
Gib des geschlagen und bitte um dein Leben [2:40]
No.34 Trumpet Tune [1:04]
No.42 Trumpet Tune

Endlich, endlich halt ich dich in meinen Armen [2:53]
No.35 Ye blust'ring brethren of the skies [4:13]
No.36 Symphony
No.37 Round thy coasts

No.39 Your hay it is mow'd [2:29]
No.40 Fairest isle [3:00]
Merlin, sclau hast du nur, was uns gefallt, hier offenbart [0:43]
No.32 How happy the love [6:42]
Credits [1:56]

Purcell’s King Arthur, or The British Worthy, is a semi-opera in five acts, with a libretto by John Dryden (1631-1700), Poet Laureate during the reigns of King Charles II and King James II. It is a celebration of England and Englishness, and the healing power of monarchy. Penned by Dryden in 1684, it was first performed in its operatic form at the Queen’s Theatre, Dorset Gardens, London, in 1691, early in the reign of William and Mary.

Central to the plot is Arthur’s love for Emmeline, the daughter of Conon, Duke of Cornwall, and her capture by the Saxon warrior-king, Oswald of Kent, following his defeat by Arthur. The Saxons are aided by the sorcerer Osmond, the Britons by Merlin and the Celtic spirits. Osmond demonstrates his magical powers by summoning up the Cold Genius, whose icy influence is only dissipated – eventually – by love.

King Arthur bears little relation to either the Mediaeval Arthurian Romances or the ‘historical’ Arthur of the sixth century AD, but is an allegory of the political situation in late seventeenth century England. Through the medium of theatre, Dryden uses the conflict between native Britons (Celts), led by Arthur, and invading Saxons, under Oswald of Kent, to represent the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and 1650s. Dryden’s play takes us from conflict to peace, with the eventual unification of England under her monarchy – Arthur is Charles II, restored to the throne, and the nation is at ease with itself.

This Austrian production, part of the 2004 Salzburg Festival, removes all traces of the opera’s original context and places it firmly in the present day – perhaps even, judging by some of the more bizarre costumes, the not-too-distant future. Contemporary references have been inserted, annoyingly and pointlessly, into the dialogue, which is in German (with sub-titles) and into several of the songs, which are in English. I cannot be alone in finding the presence on stage of traffic cones somewhat disquieting, as also the excessively comic penguins in the Ice scene.

"Your hay it is mowed" is performed - if that is the right word - in the style of a late-night karaoke session – and I cringed to hear "the honour of old England" shouted as if by a binge-drinker on his way home from a night-club. On a more positive note, the slapstick moments in the play are more authentic, or at least in the spirit of the original, and the staging is reasonably impressive – the projection of Merlin’s face onto the sky worked well; though I was not so sure about him when he appeared later on stage, wearing Tyrolean costume complete with feathered hat. More seriously, whilst the Viennese orchestra seems to have mastered the English Baroque with ease, and the large choral pieces are performed extremely well, often with great energy, solo performances are lacklustre. Fairest Isle is particularly disappointing – unforgiveable, for the crowning moment of the production - and the singer exudes neither passion nor patriotic fervour - not least because of her obvious discomfort at having to sing in English. This is a DVD that I will probably not be watching again.

Em Marshall



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