Purcell and Mendelssohn, of course, are linked by A Midsummer's Night Dream as both created music for it. Mendelssohn's inspiration takes the play's name. Purcell's is The Fairy Queen which I went to see at Glyndebourne on Saturday.
William Christie conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, his white head bobbing about in the pit like a beachball on a sea of strings. The music felt urgent, although it had to wait silently while long passages of dialogue elapsed. That is the nature of the masque. The actors, singers and dancers have to wait their turn. The difference is that while in opera, the ideal is to have one performer who can do all three, in so-called semi-opera, one employs three specialists. The masque was not opera's poor relation, but grand-scale royal entertainment, meant to be lavish and expensive.
The actor Desmond Barrit stole the show as Bottom. He also sang the part of the Drunken Poet in Act I where the dialogue is thickest. He slurred and stammered, apparently in playful imitation of the writer Thomas D'Urfey. Lucy Crowe sang deliciously and with no apparent discomfort suspended from the ceiling in Thrice Happy Lovers at the beginning of Act V. Carolyn Sampson made a beautiful job of The Plaint, the 'Dido's Lament' aria in The Fairy Queen. Haute-contre (high tenor) Ed Lyon sang One Charming Night with a sinuous magic in his voice carried by the cool trilling of flute and recorder.
The performance of The Fairy Dream by Henry Purcell and Harvey Brough at the Barbican two weeks earlier had real charm. Only the Act IV Masque of the Seasons had been used by Brough, the four 'stagioni' interspersed with children's choir numbers using Shakespeare's original texts. They sang confidently in two and three parts though the seven schools had only met to rehearse twice. The adult choir, its membership comprising City bankers, looked on indulgently. It is a wonderful addition to the canon of works for untrained children to sing with amateur grown-ups.