You did manage to glean that it was a Purcell concert, but you failed even to find out what was being played.
Which was probably a good thing. You have recently decided that you don’t go to enough classical concerts to waste one by repeating yourself too often and as it turned out you’d already seen this particular piece at at the Proms.
You took note of the start time. 6.30pm. This seemed a little early, but almost as if to prove your brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, you made nothing of this, not even when your more clued up companion pointed out that you weren’t going to be going home until gone ten. This did, however, seem to explain why, sold out though the performance was, your fellow promenaders were really rather thin on the ground.
Even the words ’semi-staged’ didn’t clue you in. You had, by this point, worked out you were attending an opera, and so you just assumed you were getting some costumes and a bit of hand waving. Opera isn’t much more energetic plotwise than that anyway in your opinion.
It came as a bit of a shock, then, when, after an introductory parp from the orchestra, what the bunch of people standing behind them launched into was not anything to do with music but something which sounded suspiciously like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
And finally you realised this was the full version of Purcell’s Fairy Queen. With the bastardised Shakespeare script, but minus the scenery and some of the bigger props.
The Fairy Queen is the best kind of opera. The singing bits are almost entirely overshadowed by the talking bits.
There was also a lot of dancing. Which was interesting. Obviously this production had decided to use up its equal opportunities budget all in one go and so had employed all the male dancers who are too short to get parts in a conventional company, but have the advantage of being easy to lift for the women who are too tall to get parts in a conventional company. Good though.
As for the play, having got most of the plot out of the way in the first half, the singing did rather take over in the second. It also rapidly lost any tenuous connection to the storyline. I mean the entire final act is supposed to be a Chinese extravaganza for no better reason, you assume, than it was even more exotic and had the potential to really send the staging budget through the roof, which you rather think was the sort of thing that constituted a good night out back in Purcell’s day. The costumes! The slitty eyes! The fantastical mechanical gadgets powering Phoebus’ chariot and the flying swans!
But it wasn’t a Chinese extravaganza in this modern production. That wouldn’t be very PC. Of course, you aren’t sure how receptive Purcell’s audience would have been to them relocating the whole scene to the garden of Eden and having innocent Eve turning into a gum chewing burbury wearing mobile phone toting Essex girl slut. But then the right thinking churchmen of the time would probably largely approve such an interpretation of the ur-woman figure.
If there were any right thinking churchmen left after the overthrow of the Puritans and the Restoration of Charles II.
Anyway, safe to say that in the cut price Proms version of the Glyndebourne production of The Fairy Queen they didn’t just play it for laughs, they milked it for vulgarity. Hopefully, Charles II would have approved of that, at least.
You don’t know whether it’s something about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or something about you that this meant the play part made a lot more sense than usual.
Certainly the rude mechanicals fitted in a lot better, although you did have another revelation about them. Shakespeare, you decided, had obviously spent a few too many rehearsals as the resident writer for the King’s Men being driven batshit by primadonnas trying to get all the best bits for themselves and insisting he add in nonsensical prologues.
Still, no matter how hard the actors, singers and dancers tried to shoehorn the maximum amount of knowingness into every given lyric, and believe me they tried hard, you just cannot imagine anyone ever thinking that a harpsichord could sound lewd.
But when ten giant pink bunnies bounded onto stage and proceeded to engage each other in energetic fucking motions in as many highly athletic positions as the music of the Haymakers’ Dance gave them time for you can’t say that you were actually displeased.
You really do get a bang for your buck at the Proms.
This post was written by Solnuska, who spent a lot of the last ten years living and working in Russia. Moscow, to be specific. She is married to a Russian. No, he doesn’t own any football teams. Or drink vodka for breakfast. She has one small boy. You can read more at her blog Verbosity.
Photo credit: abercj