Glyndebourne is the epitome of British opera festivals. Seventy-five years ago, John Christie founded the tradition of “country house opera”, where opera can be enjoyed in beautiful settings. The estate itself is magnificent, but Glyndebourne is distinctive because it’s dedicated to excellence. Christie’s vision was to create “not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere”. Glyndebourne is like
Shakespeare’s play within a play lends itself superbly to Purcell’s concept of opera as a combination of different forms of theatre – song, masques for dancing, orchestral fantasies, tracts of spoken dialogue and dramatic tableaux. Towards the end, stage overflows into auditorium, players running in through the stalls. William Christie turns to the audience, encouraging them to sing along. At the very end, rose petals fall from the ceiling, engulfing the patrons, a final coup de théâtre which evokes Glyndebourne’s lovely gardens beyond the building.
In dreams, symbols hold sway. Literally, in the scene where Titania is wrapped in shrouds of muslin as she falls into deep sleep. Then a giant spider descends from the ceiling, sweeping the queen upwards like prey, suspended dangerously above the stage. It’s a shockingly potent image, dangerous and breathtaking – if the spiders thread should break, the singer might indeed be killed. A giant opium poppy appears alluding to unnatural dreams and again to the implication of danger and death.
Titania and Bottom, played by Desmond Barrit, his head now an ass, float away in a boat shaped like a giant pea pod which emerged from the bowels beneath the stage. As if crossing the River Styx, they are ferried by a gondolier with the head of a fish.
Purcell’s drama was influenced by the exigencies of his time. Thus the baroque taste for elaborate theatrical illusions, which this production faithfully honours with the extra benefit of modern technology and lighting. The roof opens as huge wooden cut-outs of clouds descend. The clouds part to reveal a resplendent Sun King astride a golden Pegasus, wings unfurled. Then, vignettes of each of the Four Seasons. Autumn comes dressed as cabbage and pumpkin, like those paintings of men as vegetables, so popular in baroque times. These tableaux don’t serve the narrative as such, they’re pure spectacle, in true 17th century spirit.
William Christie led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in free spirited, vivacious performance. This is the best baroque orchestra in
This was an amazing Fairy Queen, which will be almost impossible to translate in the semi-stagedperformance to come at the Proms. Nor will it work in theatres outside Glyndebourne which don’t have its superb facilities, so it won’t be included in the Glyndebourne Touring season. Let’s pray this production will be immortalized on film, so all can share in its glory.A full review with more photos HERE
Photos above are :
In peapod boat : Desmond Barrit as Bottom and Sally Dexter as Titania The
Fairy Queen GFO 2009 photo credit : Neil Libbert
Sally Dexter as Titania and Joseph Millson as Oberon The Fairy Queen GFO
2009 photo credit : Neil Libbert