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15.4.07

Folger Consort's Fairy Queen

Derek Jacobi and Lynn RedgraveThere are any number of excuses for the excellent concerts being offered by the Folger Consort this weekend. The group is celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Folger Shakespeare Library is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the Shakespeare in Washington festival is still officially on. Whomever we have to thank, the Folger Consort has assembled a fine orchestral ensemble and a cast of very good singers to give a complete concert performance of Henry Purcell's series of masque scenes known as The Fairy Queen, composed for a staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In an ingenious adaptation, Lynn Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, and Richard Clifford read some excerpts from the play interspersed with the musical pieces. The combination of rarely performed music and celebrated actors meant that the performances at the Folger's Elizabethan Theater, one of the most intimate and beautiful venues in the city, sold out rapidly. Even the single performance Sunday evening at the Strathmore Music Center, a much larger venue, is almost completely sold out.

The instrumental ensemble, conductorless except for a couple movements led by theorbist Christopher Kendall from the middle of the stage, gave a tuneful, idiomatic rendition of Purcell's worthy score. Occasional lapses of rhythmic unity between the violin sections, on opposing sides of the stage, were noticeable only in the first couple numbers. Bassoon (Marilyn Boeneau) and oboes (Stephen Bard and Sarah Weiner) were solid, and Boeneau and Weiner doubled on recorders admirably in the charming bird prelude, which leads into Act II. Trumpets (Stanley Curtis and Erika Schafer) added mostly noble sounds in their selected contributions. The group gave their best performance on the inevitable Baroque conclusion, the Chaconne, a lovely if brief example of the genre.

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Purcell, The Fairy Queen, Véronique Gens, Sandrine Piau, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
(1992)
The singing was on par with the other contributions, in a work that contains some first-rate vocal music. Leading the four soloists was bass-baritone François Loup, with excellent performances on airs like Hush, no more. He and countertenor Drew Minter played the Dialogue between Coridon and Mopsa to the hilt, during which Minter, singing the coy female part to Loup's leering male part, broke into his lower voice to hilarious effect. The high point was the masque before Act V, in which the four seasons offer tribute to Phoebus, with one air for each soloist, from highest to lowest. Rosa Lamoreaux's two-soprano duet with Joellen Brassfield, Turn then thine eyes, was another lovely moment, with its contrapuntally opposed melodic lines.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, A Leaner 'Fairy Queen,' Bolstered by Star Power (Washington Post, April 16)
Derek Jacobi, Lynn Redgrave, and Richard Clifford (Jacobi's life partner) took the roles of Oberon, Titania, and Puck in the fairy scenes and Bottom, Flute, and Quince in the scenes with the Rude Mechanicals. Reading the excerpts from folders, they brought the story to life with impeccable characterization and exceptional good humor. I have rarely felt the same sense of tragic sadness as Titania scolds Oberon for his neglect of the mazes and haunts of the fairy world in Act II or the same spiteful hatred of Oberon for his wife's refusal to hand over her page. Much becomes clear about the story when the roles are so clearly defined by great actors. See this production if you can.

The remaining performances of The Fairy Queen are scheduled for this afternoon (April 15, 2 pm) at the Folger Shakespeare Library and evening (April 15, 8 pm) at Strathmore Music Center.

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