Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry Purcell’s musical adaptation The Fairy Queen is a sumptuous feast of sight and sound.
It’s part play, part opera, and entirely entertaining – as guests at Rutgers University–Camden will soon discover.
The Rutgers–Camden theater and music programs will present a fully staged performance of this rarely produced gem, featuring actors, dancers, soloists, a chorus, and full Baroque orchestra.
Evening performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and Saturday, April 26, in the Walter K. Gordon Theater. There will also be a special high school matinee performance on Thursday, April 24, at 10 a.m., and a matinee performance on Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m. Click here for a backstage glimpse of preparations for this musical extravaganza,the likes of which have never been seen before.
Music is directed by world-renowned soprano Julianne Baird, a distinguished professor of music, and the production directed by Kenneth Elliott, an associate professor of theater and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Rutgers–Camden.
“It’s witty, it’s entertaining, and the music is truly glorious,” says Elliott. “It is going to be a delightful production.”
The libretto and scenes are adapted from Shakespeare’s play and punctuated by extravagant musical interludes. The semi-opera showcases Purcell’s unusually wide range of composition, says Baird.
“Purcell is very much music of people,” she says. “He drew from jigs and folk tunes of his era as he crafted this composition. The Fairy Queen spans all the way from wonderfully royal music to the simplest love song that you might hear in a tavern.”
For Rutgers–Camden’s theater and music programs, the ambitious production is an extraordinary collaborative effort, featuring more than 40 student and professional performers. According to Elliott, he and Baird relished the opportunity to team up for an interdisciplinary – and fun – venture. The trick, he says, is pulling together these various performers, all of whom have been rehearsing in their own groups, into a cohesive, unified ensemble.
“It’s a considerable challenge, because there are so many moving parts,” says the Rutgers–Camden theater professor. “But the key is that we are communicating throughout the whole process, so we know that it will gel.”
Equally as challenging is The Fairy Queen’s enigmatic performance history, notes the director. As he explains, Purcell wrote and presented the semi-opera in 1692. However, the score had been lost for more than 200 years before being rediscovered in a library in the early 20th century. The piece was then performed academically at several universities, but wasn’t given a full-fledged revival until it was performed at Covent Garden in London in 1946. The work has since been interpreted and presented differently each time.
“Every production is unique, because the performance style – a pageant based on a theme rather than dramatically integrated music – is something that we’re really not accustomed to,” says Elliott, adding that the libretto has consistently varied. “The original production rewrote Shakespeare’s poetry and rearranged the text to meet the needs of the opera and the contemporary sensibilities of 1692 London.”
Elliott has now restored Shakespeare’s poetry, retained the storyline of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and maintained some of the original production’s scenes and plot structure. “Rewriting Shakespeare is never a great idea,” says Elliott. “We want this beautiful poetry and gorgeous music to coexist in one production. It also gives our students a wonderful opportunity to perform Shakespeare.”
Tickets are $12 for general admission; $10 for senior citizens, faculty, staff, and alumni; and $7 for non-Rutgers students with a valid ID. Rutgers–Camden students may obtain two tickets free of charge at the Impact Booth in the Campus Center with their Rutgers University ID.
For more information, visit rutgerscamdentheater.com. To arrange tickets for the high school matinee, please contact Jake Hufner at 856-225-2870 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Maria Buckley at 856-225-6176 or email@example.com.