Orpheus Britannicus.

London music publisher Henry Playford had craftily encapsulated all the artfulness and nativist spirit of the Restoration in a single catchy marketing meme. His exhaustive collection of popular vocal centrepieces by English-born composer Henry Purcell underwent six reprints in little more than a decade before gradually slipping into obscurity. It would be over 250 years before Benjamin Britten, Purcell’s latter-day modernist heir, would resurrect the two volume songbook, greatly broadening interest in the industrious late 17th century maestro’s prodigious vocal legacy.

Although technically not the first native-born composer to pen authentically English music theatre — that honorific more properly belongs to John Blow, his courtly Venus and Adonis of 1684 preceding Purcell’s first effort, Dido and Aeneas, by several years — Purcell’s genius for rhythm and harmony, his deft handling of language, his mastery of melody elevate him to greatness and deservedly so. For two glorious decades prior to his shockingly premature death at the age of 35, Purcell reigned supreme as arbiter of authentically British musical manners, a preeminent cultural stylist revered by peer and commoner alike.

Adding a fresh performative gloss to a particularly notable achievement on Purcell’s professional timeline, the perennially venturesome early opera collective, Les Arts Florissants, founded in 1979 by legendary Baroque specialist William Christie, launched the Toronto Summer Music Festival on a rousing, endlessly buoyant high note last week with a ravishing, semi-staged performance of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, a swirling, irrepressible salute to life and love.

First performed in London in 1692, the exuberant five-act classic was an immediate megahit, something of a balm to a battered nation’s soul at a time of lasting collective unease in the troubled wake of persistent unsettling regime change. The Fairy Queen offered a measure of soothing relief then and now as Christie and company amply demonstrated in their sprawling, slickly contemporized treatment of a vibrant timeless masterpiece.

Populated by a tirelessly energetic troupe of young singers and dancers partnered by a glorious period orchestra, Purcell’s uplifting, escapist sensation assumed thrilling new dimensions on the otherwise unadorned Koerner Hall concert stage. An infectious surrender to optimism in the face of nature, human and earthly both, the forces that bind us together — our need for community; our universal catalogue of emotions; our unerring fallibility — all on vivid display, a sharing of joy and passion, pain and loss tendered with great artistry and resonance.

Though unquestionably associated with Shakespeare’s enduringly whimsical comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, neither Purcell or textual collaborator, actor/manager Thomas Betterton — the most likely candidate for librettist — display the slightest intention to set, adapt or overtly reflect the narrative underpinnings of the play. The dominant impulse informing The Fairy Queen’s creation is the concept of masque, a uniquely English semi-operatic phenomenon by Purcell’s day in which extraneous dramatic interludes with music — and frequently dance — were brusquely appended to spoken, more conscientiously plotted stage works. No single active element in The Fairy Queen has any direct relation to Shakespeare other than a single fleeting reference to Oberon, fairy folk king. Any paralleling of scena is informed more by atmosphere and metaphor than considered design, the ability of Restoration audiences to intuit literary footnotes notwithstanding.

Bright red socks glowing, Christie took to the stage. Singers gathered. Dancers frolicked. An invitation. Come, let us leave the Town. Night fell, lighting designer Fabrice Sarcy’s subtle cues conjuring an evening of moonlit enchantment, love its shining corollary. Rapturous. Beguiling. The seasons whirled past, Christie’s conducting boundlessly respectful, focused, subtly summoning infinite variations in mood and orchestral texture. Love withered but endured as we watched and listened spellbound. A new dawn broke. A chorus of grateful onlookers raised their voices in celebration.

Love shall fill all the places of Care/And every time the Sun shall display his Rising Light/It shall be to them a new Wedding Day,/And when he sets, a new Nuptial night.

Lights up to fade out, singing was consistently excellent, centre stage moments as distinctive as they were varied.

Soprano Paulina Francisco, mezzo-sopranos Georgia Burashko, Rebecca Leggett and Juliette Mey, all graduates, as per the entire cast, of Le Jardin des Voix, Christie’s international academy for gifted young singers, brought a fine, soaring sensibility and lyricism to some of Purcell’s most affective airs. Francisco (Hark now the Echoing Air a Triumph Sings), agility and grace personified. Burashko (Ye Gentle Spirits of the Air, appear), a master of coloratura. Leggett (Thrice Happy Lovers) bright and assured. Mey (O let me weep), superbly centred, first violinist Emmanuel Resche-Caserta slipping out of the orchestra to join her in an intensely poignant performance of Purcell’s ageless Plaint.

Staffing a second more voce profunda cohort, bass baritone Benjamin Schilperoort (Hush, no more be silent all) sang with profound beauty, weaving long lines of legato through Purcell’s ceaselessly captivating score, tenor Rodrigo Carreto gifting us with a singularly arresting When a Cruel long Winter has frozen the Earth.

Donning a demure, sunny yellow pinafore over his street clothes, fellow tenor Ilja Aksionov and boisterous baritone Hugo Herman-Wilson brought a typically playful Purcellian moment of sly sketch humour to life, Aksionov assuming the role of Mopsa, a reluctant maid, Herman-Wilson, Cordon, a lusty country swain determined to sample her favours. No, no: no kissing at all, naturally, ended with a kiss, much to the immense delight of a hugely enthusiastic house.

Dancers, largely drawn from hip-hop choreographer Mourad Merzouki’s Compagnie Käfig, a dazzling troupe of breakers and jazzy classicists, constantly astonished, seamlessly integrated into the vocal ensemble at large, vital and earthy, liberated and gravitationless, less interpreters of Purcell’s music, more manifestations of the music itself. Extraordinary. Magical. And entirely appropriate.

Wildly applauded by sold-out audiences since first embarking on its current trans-Atlantic tour in Versailles last month, this masterfully staged, daringly inventive Fairy Queen ruled our hearts.

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