So, last night I headed off to Birmingham's Town Hall for Purcell's The Fairy Queen - one of the very earliest English operas. It's from 1692 - I seem to be spending a lot of time in that period at the moment: I've just read Poly-Olbion, am teaching Paradise Lost and now I'm on Massinger's 1620s A New Way to Pay Old Debts - though of course the Civil War came between the two texts.
The orchestra was the New London Consort, who play period instruments (like viols instead of cellos, and tuned in the old pitch). They were magnificent: supple and fluid, though I still have doubts about the obsession with authenticity that often comes with the period orchestras. Nice to see occasionally, but I hope it doesn't take over.
However, what really surprised me was the performance. I expected some singers to run through it pretty straight, but the production featured modern dress and a group of circus acrobats. The set comprised a collection of suitcases rearranged to indicate activity and settings, so pretty minimalist, but it really worked. The soloists were stunningly good, and could actually act, which is always a plus. They brought out the humour in the songs and action, which is quite an achievement given that it's based on Spenser's The Faerie Queene, which is rather short on laughs and long on imperialism and racism: the Purcell cuts straight to the romance.
Here are a couple of samples, from the romantic side of the piece.