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Proms 2009: Prom 7 – The Fairy Queen

July 21, 2009

If you’ve come here for a review you are, I’m afraid, going to be disappointed. This in itself is a bizarre way to kick-off given that I don’t believe for a moment anybody would seriously come here for a review.

Let me let you into a little secret about the classical music world (assuming you haven’t worked it out already). People who love classical music and love to impress other people with their love of it pour scorn on those who are flippant about it. To be a lover of it implies an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. Not only that, anyone who proposes a review of such a performance must also demonstrate innate objectivity in everything they write.

It is an impossible task. Music is a subjective experience and it’s also primarily an aural experience (assuming it’s not opera which is, of course, a visual experience too).

So, technically speaking, I should be able to write about Purcell’s Fairy Queen without having done any research about it. I should, theoretically be able to draw on my listening experience and combine that with any prior knowledge I may have about the composer, the period he worked in or the work he produced.

Sadly, I can do none of these things. Let me explain why (and I make no apologies if at this point in time you’re thinking you’re not that interested in the reason why).

Given that tonight’s performance at the BBC Proms is fifteen minutes shy of four hours (when you factor in the necessary 20 minute interval), there was no way I was going to make it to the Royal Albert Hall for 6.30pm.

It was around about that time I had finally arrived at a deeper understanding of the problems which had occupied my mind for the majority of my working day. I still can’t account for why the publishing system I’m working on insists on delivering an error message “Bad Gateway” when those people responsible for that gateway consider it to be a very good gateway, but I had come the early evening arrived at a suitably reassuring workaround.

Given the concert had already started by that stage, I suppose I could have caught up on the BBC iPlayer. But there is an excuse I’d like to assuage my first bout of Proms-related guilt this season which I hope you will eventually be sympathetic about.

The Fairy Queen serves up unpleasant memories at the very mention of the work.

Years ago I was responsible for putting on a concert performance of the Fairy Queen by a reasonably good orchestra for a reasonably important promoter. I was charged with the all the usual duties: finding the musicians, persuading the musicians, booking the venue, measuring up the venue for the performance, sourcing the appropriate staging, transporting the appropriate staging (as it happens, using a vehicle which was in no way fit for purpose), marking up the parts, setting up the orchestra chairs and stands, sorting out front of house, ensuring the rehearsal began on time and finished on time (difficult given the earlier transportation difficulties alluded to), putting the orchestra on stage for the concert (made difficult because of the problems already alluded to), packing everything up and then returning to base 100 miles away.

One of the major contributory factors to me having bad feelings about this piece of music was – in part – down to me not liking the idea of it in the first place. Then when I discovered it’s duration, I liked it even less. To then experience a multitude of technical, organisational and inter-personnel problems during the few manic hours before the performance, you’ll begin to understand why I was less than keen to spend any more time than was absolutely necessary in the concert venue after the orchestra, chorus and soloists went on stage.

No surprises then, I quickly retired to the nearby pub for a cool lemonade and an opportunity to plan my long-range escape route.

Things got worse when I returned to base after the concert. Back at my desk at a point in the day when I really hadn’t got the energy nor the stamina to deal with work-related issues which may have come up in my absence, I discovered a small post-it note attached to a clear plastic folder stuffed full of paperwork, both displaying the same characteristic with spidery writing all over it.

Clearly written in haste (and presumably fuelled by a great deal of anger), the note from my boss stated:

“I can’t find my folder about the next concert anywhere. You need to find it. If it’s not back on my desk by 9 tomorrow morning, you’re fired.”

The plastic folder she’d attached it to was exactly the folder she was looking for.

In case you’re wondering I still have the post-it note nearly fifteen years after the event. I do tend to hold on to the negative stuff, you see.

Naturally, I wouldn’t want to put you off the performance given by the Glynebourne Festival Chorus and the Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment. According to one irritatingly pretty PR type it appears I’ve missed people dressed as bunnies simulating sex-acts. Such a shame it was only broadcast on the radio. Still, give it a on the iPlayer catch-up thingamy (second half here). And when you’ve heard, be sure to let me know (if, of course, you’ve got this far and can be bothered).

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3 Comments
  1. thomasedwards permalink

    I went this evening, it took quite a while for things to get going. I didn’t know the play well enough to get many of the jokes, and there was a lot of chit-chat and prancing about I did not enjoy. Once people starting singing it was enjoyable, but I did feel the four hours.

  2. I went yesterday – and agree that the dialogue does overstay its welcome a little. It also suffers from having been such a great Glyndebourne production moving to a smaller and more basic stage… I didn’t get the same magic that most reviews of Glyndebourne performances have raved about.

  3. Chris Poppe permalink

    Being behind on catching up with this year’s Proms due to mistimed holiday, I was faced with a problem…. should I listen to a dutiful 4 hours of Fairy Queen, or the shallow entertainment of Saint-Saens Organ Symphony?

    No question really.

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