King Arthur: A Dramatick Opera/King Arthur/King Arthur/King Arthur

By Hoffman, Don | Arthuriana, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

King Arthur: A Dramatick Opera/King Arthur/King Arthur/King Arthur


Hoffman, Don, Arthuriana


King Arthur: A Dramatick Opera. Music by HENRY PURCELL. Libretto by JOHN DRYDEN. Director and choreographer: MARK MORRIS. A co-production with English National Opera/Mark Morris Dance Group/New York City Opera in association with Cal Performances, Berkeley. Production premiere: June 26, 2006. London Coliseum, United Kingdom. New York premiere: March 5, 2008. New York City Opera.

HENRY PURCELL, King Arthur. Monteverdi Choir. English Baroque Soloists. Dir. John Eliot Gardiner. Erato Disques, S.A., 1994.

HENRY PURCELL, King Arthur. Les Arts Florissant. Dir. William Christie. Erato Disques, S. A., 1995

HENRY PURCELL, King Arthur. Live from the Salzburger Festspiele. Music director: Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Directed for the stage by Jurgen Flimm. Recorded live at the Felsenreitschule, 24-28 July, 2004. Euroarts DVD, 2004.

Fans of Mark Morris and his dancers were delighted with the production of Purcell's King Arthur presented in March by the New York City Opera. Admirers of Purcell were equally delighted by the quality of the singers and musicians under the baton of Jane Glover. Anyone interested in Dryden's libretto or the legend of King Arthur was far less likely to share in the enthusiasm.

Part of the fascination of the Arthurian legend is its susceptibility to change, to morph into different forms to suit the tastes of an age or the agendas of either the powerful or the paranoid. Dryden, however, may well be responsible for one of the more peculiar interventions in this history of mutability. His libretto is set appropriately enough in the time of the wars between the Britons and the Saxons. Dryden, however, invents a rivalry that is amorous as well as martial, as Arthur falls in love with Emmeline, the daughter of the Saxon invader, Oswald. The simple story is embellished with the kinds of fancies typical of the masques of the seventeenth century: the feats of Merlin and the peculiar sprite Philadel; the notorious naked rompings of the water nymphs; the dangers of the Frost Giants; pastoral celebrations; and a happy ending with Arthur united to his beloved Emmeline, a sort of Sovereignty of Britain figure without the distracting and complicated history of a Guinevere, whose erasure in this case is total.

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