Purcell revisited: a review of the 6/15/17 performance of Gramercy Opera's production of 'The Fairy Queen'
The June 15th performance of Gramercy Opera’s brand new production of The Fairy Queen by Henry Purcell was performed in the outdoor gardens at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum in the Upper East Side. The Fairy Queen premiered in 1692, and is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Fairy Queen was designated by Purcell as a masque or semi-opera. The work features music that is interspersed between scenes of dialogue, which are adapted from the play. The characters both sing and dance to this music, and rather than driving the drama or action forward, the music serves as a commentary on Shakespeare’s plot.
In this world premiere adaptation of the work, much of the old libretto for the play has been impressively rewritten by stage director Brittany Goodwin. She took the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and used it as a springboard to write text that is both a homage to the Bard and completely original in its dramatic design. The dialogue includes lines that allude to other works by Shakespeare, such as The Tempest and Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?).
The cast was uniformly excellent, and demonstrated their admirable acting abilities with Goodwin’s text. Thursday night’s performance featured Magda Gartner as Titania and Allison McAuley as Helena. McAuley’s singing and acting showed a deep understanding of Helena's character, her motivations, and dramatic development throughout the work. Her performance was one of the show’s highlights. Another highlight was Megan Brunning’s excellent portrayal of Hermia. She stepped in to cover the role at the last minute, but one would have never known that she prepared the character on one day’s notice because of her performance’s subtle finesse. In addition to performing Hermia, she also performed her role as Second Fairy in the show. Chelsea Feltman stole the spotlight in all of her scenes as the mischievous Puck. Her diction was clear, her tone was pure and her acting shined. Another standout amongst the leading characters was Joey Rodriguez and his portrayal of Lysander, which featured him donning a large fan with the word “SHADE” written on the front. Other artists who gave noteworthy performances were the ensemble of fairies: Rachel Duval as First Fairy, Sara Lin Yoder as Peaseblossom, Kat Liu as Cobwebb, Jaeyeon Kim as Bubble Fairy, La Toya Lewis as Mustardseed, Carlos Jimenez as Cupid, and Frank Fainer as Sprite. Their beautiful choreography was one of the most dramatically moving and effective elements of the entire production.
The orchestra, led by conductor David Stetch, was very precise and expressive. All the musicians showed a well informed understanding of Baroque performance practices. The outdoor setting for the opera and the charming nature of the story made the production very child-friendly. There were many children and young adults, myself included, in the audience. Gramercy Opera made Purcell’s perennial classic a work which can be appreciated by people of all ages. One hopes they continue to create productions that have this much artistic value.
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Felix Jarrar is a composer and pianist that is currently based in Brooklyn.