(Previous section here.)
Purcell wrote some wonderful music for this drama. I particularly like the frost scene in Act III, where you hear the shivers in the music. Further along in this same scene, they have Love dancing to the music with a fan – there’s something about this that picks up on the rhythmic quality of the music in a really clever and charming way, even though in a literal sense it has nothing to do with what is happening.
Of the vocal soloists here, the standouts for me were Barbara Bonney and Michael Schade – Schade’s performance of “how blessed are shepherds” was one of my favorite parts of this, and Bonney’s “fairest isle” is also very beautiful. (Schade singing “your hay it is mow’d” is not to be missed either. It is here, followed by “fairest isle.”)
I think the thing I liked about this production the most was the fact that it isn’t really about anything, as far as I could tell. Merlin had his monologue that pokes jabs at old-fashioned opera goers; Arthur himself (Michael Maertens) is not particularly heroic – he’s sort of indecisive and occasionally shrill and jumpy; there are plenty of absurdist and silly moments; the production as a whole feels coherent, but this is not a rendition of the work that makes you feel that anything of great significance is riding on the outcome: the point is perhaps that operas, like quasi-mythological figures, should not be taken too seriously all the time.