The Most Ghastlie Murther of Mr. Henry Purcell

Purcell’s semi-operas are notoriously difficult to recreate for the stage though it can be done, and brilliantly, as the recent The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne showed. M. Hervé Niquet and his collaborators (co-perpetrators might be a better term) in Montpellier take the Purcell/Dryden piece King Arthur and provide an object lesson in how not to do it. Starting with a campy explanation of how he couldn’t inflict five hours of John Dryden on us, M. Niquet inflicts upon us a travesty each five minutes of which seem to last longer than five hours of Dryden, or even Racine. The objective, we are told, was to create a narrative to link the Purcell numbers and create something coherent. Except the “plot” (more or less non-existent) which M. Niquet has cooked up with the help of a hitherto unknown to me french comedy duo, Shirley and Dino, doesn’t actually do that. It’s not helped by the fact that no differentiation is made between British and Saxon characters but that’s really minor compared with the overall lameness of it. Most of the linking action is camped up. It’s supposed to be Pythonesque apparently but this lot of Frenchmen are about as convincing as Pythons as the Pythons are as Frenchmen. All the action, except Purcell’s songs, is in French which also seems odd. The Purcell is sung in English, though with the exception of the solid and idiomatic bass, Joao Fernandez, it’s not always obvious. The other singers really aren’t adequate in any department; shrill, forced and unidiomatic to a man/woman, though being forced to camp it up all the time doesn’t help. I couldn’t watch it all. I got half way through Act 2 then fast forwarded to Act 5. I wish I hadn’t. The suffering that is inflicted on that gorgeous song “Fairest Isle, all isles excelling” is just the final straw.

Searching desperately for positives besides Joao Fernandez I would say that the band, Le Concert Spirituel, is very good indeed. Everything else is almost enough to make one forget how good the music Purcell wrote for King Arthur actually is.

Watch if you dare…

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2 thoughts on “The Most Ghastlie Murther of Mr. Henry Purcell

  1. Pingback: Words (almost) fail me | operaramblings

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