Conducted by Jean Tubéry, Vox Luminis and Teatro La Fenice Orchestra perform King Arthur, or The British Worthy (Z. 628), a semi-opera in five acts with music by Henry Purcell and a libretto by John Dryden. Recorded on August 31, 2015, at the Utrecht Early Music Festival (Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht) 2015 in TivoliVredenburg. A fantastic performance, enjoy.
- Sopranos: Sophie Junker, Zsuzsi Tóth, Caroline Weynants, Kristen Witmer
- Altos: Helen Cassano, Daniel Elgersma, Jan Kullmann
- Tenors: Olivier Berten, Robert Buckland, Philippe Froeliger
- Basses: Tomás Král, Lionel Meunier, Sebastian Myrus
- Jasmine Eudeline – Violin
- Sue-Ying Koang – Violin
- Birgit Goris – Alto
- Sophie Rebreyend – Oboe
- Laura Duthuillé – Oboe
- Anaïs Ramage – bassoon
- Emmanuel Mure – Trumpet
- Serge Tizac – Trumpet
- Keiko Gomi – Cello
- Wim Maeseele – Theorbo and Guitar
- David Van Bouwel – Organ and Harpsichord
Conductor: Jean Tubéry
Purcell’s King Arthur
“King Arthur,” or more accurately, “King Arthur, or The British Worthy,” is a semi-opera in five acts with music by Henry Purcell and a libretto by John Dryden. It was first performed in London in 1691. Semi-operas, popular in England in the late 17th century, combined spoken drama with masque-like episodes that featured singing, dancing, and elaborate stage effects.
The plot of “King Arthur” is not the traditional tale of the Arthurian legends (like the quest for the Holy Grail or the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere). Instead, the opera focuses on the battles between the Britons (led by King Arthur) and the Saxons (led by the Saxon prince Oswald). The narrative also incorporates a romantic subplot involving Arthur’s attempts to rescue his fiancée, the blind Cornish princess Emmeline, who has been captured by Oswald.
Despite its title, King Arthur himself has no singing part. The musical sections are more in the nature of incidental music and do not necessarily advance the plot. Instead, they depict various supernatural or pastoral episodes, often through allegorical characters, such as nymphs, shepherds, sirens, and spirits.
Some of Purcell’s most famous and beloved music can be found in “King Arthur.” A few notable pieces include:
- “Fairest Isle”: A beautiful song praising Britain, sung by Venus in Act IV.
- “Cold Genius” aria (“What Power art thou”): This chilling aria comes from Act III when the Cold Genius, the spirit of winter, is awakened by Cupid and complains about the harsh cold.
- “Come if you dare”: A bold and rousing invitation from the Spirit of Honor in Act II, calling upon Britons to prove their valor.
“King Arthur” is one of Purcell’s major works and showcases his unique ability to blend English and French musical styles, demonstrating his mastery of both the declamatory English vocal tradition and the more ornate continental styles. Today, performances might either present the work in its entirety (both the spoken and sung parts) or, more commonly, only its musical sections.
The piece holds a significant place in the canon of English Baroque music and is celebrated both for Dryden’s poetic brilliance and Purcell’s musical genius.
Founded in 2004 in Namur, Belgium, Vox Luminis is an ensemble specializing in the performance of 16th-18th-century vocal music.
The ensemble has been praised for its seamless blend of high-quality individual voices, exquisite tuning, and clarity of sound. Critics have also commented on the ensemble’s enthusiasm in sharing its passion for early music with an audience. The majority of the group met at one of the most significant centers for early music in Europe: the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.
Teatro La Fenice Orchestra
The history of the orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice is associated with that of the theatre, which held such an important place in opera in the nineteenth century, with premières including Semiramide, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Rigoletto, and La Traviata. The second half of the century brought an internationalization of repertory, broadened also by symphony concerts and collaboration with leading soloists.
In the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the orchestra was directed by leading conductors and composers, including Lorenzo Perosi, Giuseppe Martucci, Antonio Guarnieri, Richard Strauss, Pietro Mascagni, Giorgio Ghedini, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Goffredo Petrassi, Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Willy Ferrero, Leopold Stokowski, Fritz Reiner, Vittorio Gui, Tullio Serafin, Giuseppe Del Campo, Nino Sanzogno, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Carlo Zecchi, John Barbirolli, Herbert Albert, Bruno Walter, Franco Ferrara, Guido Cantelli, Thomas Schippers and Dimitri Mitropoulos.
In 1938 the Teatro La Fenice became an autonomous entity and the orchestra was developed further with active participation in the Festival of Contemporary Music of the Biennale. In the 1940s and 1950s under the guidance of Toscanini, Scherchen, Bernstein, and Celibidache (with a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies), Konwitschny (with Wagner’s Ring cycle), and Stravinsky, the orchestra presented a series of historic concerts. In the following years, the most distinguished conductors worked with the orchestra, among them Bruno Maderna, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Georges Prêtre, Eliahu Inbal, Seiji Ozawa, and Lorin Maazel.
Contemporary operas in the 1950s included Benjamin Britten‘s The Turn of the Screw and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and in more recent years the first Italian production of Aus Deutschland and the world première of Mauricio Kagel’s Entführung im Konzertsaal, and of Adriano Guarneri’s Medea. In concerts, the orchestra has undertaken cycles, including those dedicated to Berg and to Mahler, under the direction of conductors such as Sinopoli, Kakhidze, Masur, Barshai, Tate, Ahronovitch, Kitaenko, Inbal, and Temirkanov.
The orchestra tours regularly in Italy and abroad. Principal conductors have included Eliahu Inbal, Vjekoslav Sutej, and Isaac Karabtchevsky, and among guest conductors Jeffrey Tate. From 2002 to 2004 the musical director was Marcello Viotti.
- King Arthur (opera) on Wikipedia
- Vox Luminis’s official website
- Teatro La Fenice Orchestra on naxos.com
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