David Pountney and Quinny Sacks' production of Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen caused something of a sensation when it hit the ENO stage in 1995. It has the feel of a decadent 17th-century masque re-invented with late-20th-century energy: half the principals and chorus are in cross-dressing costumes, female characters are played by men (leading to some rather wonderful polymorphous perversity), and everything has an air of mad, hallucinogenic hipness about it. While Robert Israel's wild sets don't appear to their full advantage on the small screen, Dunya Ramicova's... costumes look fantastic (the details are simply stunning). The very fine singing is recorded with excellent clarity: while this is obviously a live performance, there are remarkably few moments that go out of microphone range, and the balance with the orchestra is handled very sensitively. The ENO band, under the baton of Nicholas Kok, respond to Purcell's wiry lines and spiky harmonies with glee, and sound like they're having a ball, as do the singers. In particular Jonathan Best as The Drunken Poet is hilarious, and it is a wonderful testament to his acting skills that he is as funny close-up as he was from the auditorium stalls.--Warwick Thompson [show more]
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