The production company for Baroque Opera and Historical Action
Dryden & Purcell
or The British Worthy
A Dramatic Opera (1691)
Poznan Academy of Music
June 10th, 2015
OPERA OMNIA, Moscow
International Baroque Opera Studio
'Remember, all is illusion'
John Dryden and Henry Purcell's King Arthur presents its story of love, super-powers and nation-building in the grandiose format of 'Dramatick Opera', bringing together spoken drama, vocal and instrumental music and dance, in five Acts of thrilling spectacle, transformations, suspense, humour and noble adventure. It was first produced by the great Shakespearian actor, Thomas Betterton (highly praised by diarist Samuel Pepys), in response to the triumph of the first such Dramatic Opera, Dioclesian (music by Purcell and drama by Beaumont and Massinger.) King Arthur, with Betterton himself in the title-role, was the most successful Opera at the Queen's Theatre.
Unfortunately, academic musicology, perhaps too narrowly focussed on obvious predecessors of the mainstream operatic canon, has given this splendid form of music-theatre the rather dismissive label 'semi-opera', as if Restoration theatre and Purcell's dramatic music might somehow diminish each other. Surely we could more inspiringly and more appropriately term this amalgam of spoken and sung drama 'double-opera'!
But modern-day audiences, familiar with Broadway and Hollywood Musicals, can approach this baroque masterpiece on its own terms, as a beautiful and entertaining exploration of universal themes: national and cultural self-identity, the power of love, the rival calls of love and duty (aka work/life balance), defining and negotiating with the Other, political and theatrical Illusion and the search for Reality.
The drama depicts the struggle for the throne of England between Arthur's Britons and Oswald's Saxons, the action taking place on St George's Day. The most famous scene is a magical transformation to the North Pole, where Cupid attempts to warm the Cold Genius. After adventures in the Enchanted Forest, the Dramatic Opera ends with a Masque in honour of Britannia.
Dryden's libretto survives complete, but Purcell's music has had to be re-assembled from Orpheus Britannicus and other period sources. Nevertheless, the music for some songs and choruses is still missing, and these have been new-composed in Purcellian style for Andrew Lawrence-King's edition. In this edition, whilst the music is newly complete, the spoken text has been shortened.
Betterton as Hamlet
(as in ALK's reconstruction of Purcell's music
and adaptation of Dryden's drama)
King Arthur - spoken
Conon, Duke of Cornwall - spoken
Emmeline, daughter of Conon, Arthur's fiancée - spoken
Matilda, her attendant
Albanacht, Captain of the Guard - spoken
Merlin, the magician - spoken
Philidel, an Airy Spirit - speaking & Soprano
Warrior - Tenor
Shepherd - Tenor & Two Shepherdesses - Sopranos
Chorus of British Warriors
Chorus of Shepherds
Oswald, King of Kent - spoken
Osmund, a magician - spoken
Grimbald, an Earthy Spirit - speaking & Bass
Two Priests - Tenor, Bass
Two Valkyries - Soprano, Alto
Cold Genius - Bass
Cupid - Soprano
Two Sirens - Sopranos
Chorus of Saxons
Chorus of Cold People
Chorus in the Enchanted Wood
Masque of Britannia
Aeolus - Bass
Nereid - Soprano
Pan - Bass
Venus - Soprano
He - Bass & She - Soprano
Comus - Baritone
Honour - Soprano
Chorus of Britons
More about the International Baroque Opera Studio production (September 2018) and how to apply to participate here.
Garrick's 1770 edition of Dryden's 1691 libretto here.
Garrick as Richard III