Above: Jessie Wilson in the role of Night. Featured Image: The Cast of Con Opera’s The Fairy Queen. Photos by Prudence Upton
The keen delivery of dramatic and musical elements in Con Opera’s current production of THE FAIRY QUEEN by Henry Purcell elegantly enlivens this work for us. It is a fine showcase for the current students of opera at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The seventeenth-century masques which originally entertained royalty by elaborating aspects of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream here maintain effective individual and collective character. There is a re-ordering of the material which works well as we are caught up in a satisfying swoop towards the final happiness of Purcell’s semi-opera.
This production is a visual treat with memorable tableaux and colourful, well-crafted action sequences. Within the three walls of an evocative composite set alluding to natural and indoor objects, stylish simplicity meets lush detail. The supernatural identities amongst the cast are suitably swathed in glittering gowns and innovatively patterned suits.
These successful costume designs by Isabella Andronos complement her set design which blends the enchanted wood with a salon turned upside down as supernatural beings get close to the mortals. Headpieces, costume fabrics and props successfully magnify the essence of each being onstage, whether they are fairies or gods.
Director Elsie Edgerton-Till ensures we are exposed to pleasing, self-contained characterisations and some spellbinding scenes. Vibrant exchanges and impressive entrances are features of each themed masque. Group scenes are fluid and never crowded in their blocking.
The orchestra is in the experienced hands of Associate Professor Neal Peres da Costa, chair of Sydney Conservatorium’s Historical Performance Unit. Purcell’s varied score is brought entertainingly to life.
The composer’s use of fanfare-like chorus declamations both before us and offstage are well realised. They successfully punctuate the opera with clarity and a joyous tone. Music for choreographer Daniella Lacob’s revival of period dance and other stage frivolities is effectively paced to assist the movement.
The shifts to moments of measured, intimate music are nicely executed. Relatively hushed but solid accompaniments such as the music beneath Titiana’s O Let Me Weep and Night’s See,See Even Night Herself Is Here create a rich tapestry over which the soprano voices can further weave expressive magic.
The sixteen characters presented in Purcell’s semi-opera are portrayed with continued individuality, colour, focus and energy. The students exhibit significant stage presence and calibre of acting as the masques unfold with agreeable momentum and interactions.
Chris Bryg’s Oberon is an excellent example of such exuberance. He makes full use of the stage and dramatic opportunities. Decked out in a shiny gold suit, he communicates always with a penetrating voice. Thomas Marshall’s Phoebus also exhibits impressive pomp as he moves with resolve around many parts of the set. He sings with poise and with a promising tenor tone.
True operatic highlights come from sopranos Imogen Malfitano (as Titiana) and Jessie Wilson (as Night). Their gentle moments of controlled vocal line and mood are exquisitely executed. Malfitano’s vocal control and dramatic sensibilities make the expression of Oh Let Me Weep following her character’s loss of mortal affection a memorable part of this production.
Jessie Wilson delivers a commanding and confident performance as Night, especially when singing See, See Even Night Herself is Here, which follows an eye-catching entrance in night-themed gown and spectacular headpiece. She is arguably one of the most polished and watchable rising opera stars in this production.
The combined efforts of enthusiastic cast and insightful creatives enable audiences to sample one of Purcell’s popular entertainments in fresh style. With clever, quality production values it spoils the senses.
THE FAIRY QUEEN plays at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on May 17 and May 19 at 6:30pm. Its run concludes with a 2pm matinee on May 21.