mon 24/06/2024

The Fairy Queen, Bury Court Opera | reviews, news & interviews

The Fairy Queen, Bury Court Opera

The Fairy Queen, Bury Court Opera

Purcell goes back to school

Classy: The Fairy Queen at Bury Court Opera

Bury Court Opera acquired a pearl of great price when it persuaded Simon Over, music director of the Southbank Sinfonia and the Parliament Choir, to bring his 2010 production of Dido and Aeneas from Anghiari in Tuscany to perform in the beautifully appointed restored old barn just west of Farnham in Hampshire. It proved the launch of an alluring undertaking.

Rigoletto, Cenerentola and Onegin followed, plus a clutch of visiting productions, while Over provided leadership that showed in the assurance of his young players.

This year it’s the turn of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. A stellar medley of disparate arias and choruses all shorn of an actual libretto, it requires dazzling invention to form some kind of cogent narrative, if it to have the impact of a Dido. Bury Court has found one - and a responsive cast to match her. Julia Burbach has a CV, as assistant to half the continent’s top directors – above all, Christof Loy. The motivation and precision of her cast is exceptional.

The academic hurly-burly furnishes huge fun

She starts with an exceptional wheeze – dangerous, unless it works. She sets the opera in a school, of the St Trinian’s era, and concocts a story full of interweavings, impassioned monologues and tentative eclogues, rearranging the set-pieces to suit. She devises ingenious vignettes, as it were off-camera. To cap it all, Over supplies – whether with delicate or cheerfully bombastic touch - choruses (the leads singing en masse) that sweep you away. His continuo aptly adds enchantment.

The academic hurly-burly furnishes huge fun. It allows everyone to be tumbling over one another, but engaged about their detailed duties. The watchful Caretaker (shuffling, sidling, non-singing Jon Shaw) presides over controlled mayhem like a deity. It is a clever conceit, and Burbach’s blocking of the “students” mesmerising: the stage is like an enlarged yet compact kaleidoscope which she filled with event, all relevant textually and emotionally.

If everything about this production is brilliant, the cast come near it too. The plum performance is Aidan Smith, the baritone headmaster figure: the timbres of his voice are quite gorgeous. Lilly Pappaionnou (the English Teacher, a reawakening Titania: “No, no, no kissing at all") is an unusual, old-fashioned mezzo. The girl pupils – Grace Carter, Flore Philis – sing appetisingly throughout. Richard Latham yields one super aria as the Music Teacher, and Helen-Jane Howells half a dozen exquisite ones, all on target, as the Science Teacher.

The cast’s enunciation was beyond one’s wildest hopes. There are several other gems. The Sudan-born, RCM-trained Magid El-Bushram, whose disembodied offstage aria (as the others evanesced) is the highlight of the entire performance.

  • Further performances on 26 February and 1 March
If everything about this production is brilliant, the cast come near it too


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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