"Having set the ambitious agenda of demonstrating Purcell’s dramatic and literary gifts, the company proceeded to spend the next two hours eloquently giving evidence to their thesis with performances characterized by great intelligence, spirit and nuance."
 -Boston Musical Intelligencer, September, 2015
It was obvious throughout the evening that each musician was fully, joyfully engaged with his or her colleagues and with the music itself; a lively sense of fun held the performances together and kept the audience engaged from beginning to end. -Boston Musical Intelligencer

 

Recorded at the Shalin Liu Performance Center on September 20, 2015

In July of 1692, Princess Anne organized a fleet of barges to carry her party to Dorset Garden for a performance of Purcell’s semi opera "The fairy Queen," which she had been too ill to attend a few weeks earlier. The text for this extravaganza, which remains anonymous, is an adaptation of the Titania-Oberon plot from A Midsummer’s night’s Dream, but when the company revived the show in 1693, they cut even more of Shakespeare’s dialogue to make room for a new scene featuring a drunken poet, which concludes this concert. John Dryden, who has left us many grumpy comments expressing his conviction that poetry was superior to music, nonetheless recognized the special qualities of Purcell’s theatre music.

(All notes are by James Winn, Chair of Humanities, Boston University)

Purcell’s music for Aphra Behn’s Abdelazer was not composed for the play’s premiere, which  took place when he was about fifteen, but for a revival in 1695, several years after the playwright’s  death and shortly before the composer’s. Like Hollywood studios doing “remakes” of well-known  movies, London theatrical companies often returned to plays they had staged decades earlier, refurbishing them with different actors, new prologues and epilogues, and additional music. In addition to his sprightly incidental music, Purcell also wrote one new song for this production.

 The very sweetness of countertenor Douglas Dodson’s sound, for example, bore witness to the line “Music for awhile shall all your cares beguile” in his performance of the eponymous composition. Moreover, Dodson was so well attuned to his text that his delivery recalled a sonnet well recited, his physicality illustrating but never overburdening his words. -Boston Musical Intelligencer

Henry Purcell composed music for a revival of the seamy version of Oedipus by Dryden and Lee, first staged in 1678, which includes an operatic graveyard scene in which the ghost of Laius rises from the underworld in a chariot. Three priests sing an appeal to the “sullen Pow’rs below,” the devils who torture the damned, seeking to hypnotize them with music in order to free the ghost of Laius. Having put the hellish powers to sleep, the singers then summon the ghosts with rapid lines in triple time. The original vocal music, now lost, was probably by the Frenchified Catalan composer Luis Grabu, who fled from England during the Popish Plot scare shortly after the play’s premiere. Purcell got his opportunity to set these richly expressive texts when the play was revived in the early 1690s; as a native speaker with a great ear for English poetry, he was far better equipped than Grabu to do justice to Dryden’s words.

 

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