20 DECEMBER 1946, Page 12



THE week has been remarkable for two excellent revivals—Purcell's Fairy Queen at Covent Garden on December 12th and Orazio Vecchi's L'Amfiparnasso at the Wigmore Hall on the 13th. Almost exactly a century separates the two works, but the conventions of 1692 seem stranger and need considerably more overcoming than those of 1594. The Fairy Queen is a spectacle, based on Midsummer Night's Dream but interlarded with allegorical masques which contain the best of the music. The spectacle I found delightful, though unevenly so. The Enchanted Lake, for example, quite failed and its misty fanciful- ness seemed out of style with the rest of the work ; but the Masque of the Seasons and the chinoiseries of the last act were wholly suc- cessful. The music which had been (inevitably) cut and adapted by Constant Lambert seemed wholly suitable to the spectacle but no more than that, and I was very aware of the conventions within which Purcell was working—the fundamentally ornamental role of the music, the limited range of expression allowed to allegorical characters in their songs and Purcell's own limitations as a grand petit maitre, a first-class court purveyor but, in Fairy Queen, very little more. The singers started rather poorly, but improved as the evening went on, except for the chorus, who were excellent in tone and magnificently disciplined from the start. It is a mistake to think that there is anything quintessentially English about Purcell's dramatic music. English it certainly is, but I heard in June a per- formance in Czech of Ditto and Aeneas by pupils of the Prague Conservatoire who seemed to have mastered the style without great difficulty (though, of course, Purcell's virtues as a prosodist were lost).

Orazio Vecchi was an absentee archdeacon of a very quarrelsome disposition. His madrigal opera was sung by the New English Singers, and the action—not essential to the performance but greatly enhancing it—was entrusted to the Lanchester Marionettes. There could hardly be a better introduction to opera for those purists who complain of the artificiality and hybrid nature of the form. The music, within the strict contrapuntal forms of the late sixteenth century, has an amazing range of expressiveness, and the inclusion of prologue, narrative, dialogue and even lyrical expansion within the limits of the unaccompanied madrigal produced an astonishingly satisfactory answer to all the problems of opera-writers from Wagner to Britten. A great deal of the success of the performance was due to Professor Dent's genial translation and the excellent elocution of the singers. The synchronisation of the marionettes was faultless and their movements and gestures combined realism and stylisation in just the right proportions The musical jokes—the Doctor's serenade and the scene in the synagogue—raised spontaneous laughter, and the only question which remained in my mind after the performance was whether Debussy was not right in wanting to perform the Ring with marionettes—twice life-size and therefore semi-immobilised. Any opera which deals with the super- or sub- human (perhaps the fairy scenes in Russian operas) and any highly stylised comedy might benefit by the banishing of the visible human form from the stage.

The 44th Concert of French Music at the Wigrnore Hall on December 14th probably familiarised the audience with many tunes unknown to them but whistled and hummed regularly by their grandfathers. Fanely Revoil and Willy Clement sang selections from French operetta, from Offenbach and Herve in the 'fifties to Messager and Reynaldo Hahn—a perfect study of the French passion for style even in the most hilarious farce. I still cannot get out of my head Messager's " De ci, de la—cahin-caha " any more than great-uncle