Opera Scotland

King Arthur King Arthur, or The British Worthy

Music

Henry Purcell (born London, c 1659; died London, 21 November 1695).

Text

John Dryden (1631-1700)

Source

Original

 

Premières

First Performance: London (Dorset Garden Theatre), May or June 1691.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 14 December 1970.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

As with his later Fairy Queen, this was not composed as an opera, according to modern terminology, but is an elaborate play, with substantial musical elements, in a prologue, five acts and an epilogue. Very few of the characters of the drama actually sing. Unlike the Shakespeare-derived Fairy Queen, Dryden created King Arthur as an original work designed specifically to show off Purcell's music. Many attempts have been made to prepare a performing version which would be appropriate for an opera company that did not employ squads of actors and dancers. Colin Graham's edition, prepared in 1970, was successful at the time, but has not been revived. The work has been successful in straight concert form, and, in the 2013 Edinburgh student production, a composite perhaps in the form of a masque, successfully interpolating other music from the same hand.

 

Main Characters

Arthur, King of the Britons.

Merlin, his magician

Philidel an Airy Spirit.

Conon, Duke of Cornwall.

Emmeline, his blind daughter, engaged to Arthur.

Oswald, King of the Saxons.

Osmond, a Saxon sorcerer (renamed Guillamar in the Graham version)

Grimbald, an Earthy Spirit.

 

Plot Summary

Arthur and the Britons defeat the Saxon invaders, leaving them with only a foothold in the country. As a last resort, encouraged by Osmond and Grimbald, they kidnap Emmeline. Arthur with the help of Merlin and Philidel, defeats Oswald and wins her back. Her sight is restored, and the work ends with a spectacular celebration of the future for Britannia, which features 'Fairest Isle', one of Purcell's greatest songs.

The Cast

Arthur
 King of Britain
Aurelius
 Lieutenant to Arthur
Autumn Wind
 
Bellona
 the spirit of War
Britannia
 
Conon
 Duke of Cornwall
Cupid
 a fantasy of Guillamar's
Emmeline
 Conon's daughter and Arthur's Queen
First Shepherdess
 
First Siren
 
First Soldier
 
Grimbald
 an Earthy Spirit
Guillamar
 Oswald's Sorcerer
Matilda
 attendant to Emmeline
Merlin
 a famous Enchanter
Oswald
 King of Saxony
Philidel
 an Airy Spirit
Prophetess
 
Satyr
 Goat-man
Second Shepherdess
 
Second Siren
 
Second Soldier
 
Shepherd
 
Springtime Warmth
 
Summer Sun
 
Third Soldier
 
Venus
 
Winter Frost
 

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