WELCOME TO LINDSAY KEMP’S “THE FAIRY QUEEN”
SAGA OF A BAROQUE FAIRYTALE DREAM
In mid-2001, Lindsay Kemp was commissioned to direct Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen as part of the programme for Salamanca’s year as European Cultural Capital in 2002. At the news, Lindsay’s eyes lit up, as though thrilled by the sudden appearance of a large flashing neon sign bearing the exclamation-marked word Baroque! Surprisingly, perhaps, he had actually been a passionate expert on 17th century music and drama since his teens, and now – perhaps realising that the opportunity to have such extraordinary financial resources available to invest in beauty was unlikely to recur – he decided to pull out all the stops (tongue-in-cheek and no holds barred) and to faithfully celebrate the glorious rituals and extravagant excesses of baroque music, drama and spectacle. The result was glorious and is today an all too forgotten masterpiece… unless a breath in a reader’s or a writer’s memory revives new futures in past dances.
An occasionally light-hearted and sometimes subjective observer’s account by David Haughton
(P.S. You may require more than one session to read this in-depth plunge into the Kempian baroque… but don’t miss its various photos and photo galleries!)
(P.S. Può darsi che ti serva più di una sessione di lettura per leggere tutto questa avventura nel barocco Kempiano… ma non perdere le numerose foto seminate qui dentro!)
PART 1 – CONCEPTION
The Fairy Queen project was the most prestigious and international of his commissions, being a key partof Salamanca’s turn as Europe’s Cultural Capital. This meant that the production could draw on an unprecedented degree of funding, especially being a three-nation project, involving Spain (organisation, theatres and personnel), France (musical director Christophe Rousset, conducting his specialist ensemble Les Talens Lyriques) and pre-Brexit Great Britain (stage direction and dramaturgy by Lindsay Kemp). Furthermore, the production was co-produced by the magnificent Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao, where the production premiered on the 27th and 29th of September, 2002, before moving to the baroque style Teatro Liceo in Salamanca for performances on the 4th and 6th of October. It would later be revived in the Teatro Cervantes in Malaga in 2006, with performances on the 19th and 21st of May, mostly with the same cast as before. Six precious performances in all.
Lindsay’s programme notes (visible in Spanish in Photo Gallery number 2) bore the title Un Corazon de Magia (A Heart of Magic). He started by explaining how he had always “inhabited” A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its celebration of Love, Magic and Theatre, and also how deeply he had “inhabited” the role of Puck with his own Company, on countless stages across the world. He continued by saying “Another of my passions –which until now I have had much less opportunity to express in my work – is the world of Baroque Performance, which is achingly close to my own attempts to melt together narrative music, visual images and moving bodies in one magical stage language”… a reference to his lifelong quest for the Holy Grail of Total Theatre. He went on to describe his deep respect and love for both Shakespeare and Purcell, but not necessarily for the partly anonymous figures who in 1692 (and again in 1693, with modifications) had the bizarre idea of stitching together A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Fairy Queen in one four-hour extravaganza, alternating blocks (from 15 to 20 minutes each) of Shakespeare’s play without music, and blocks of Purcell’s music (of roughly the same length) without speech. The problem was not only the excessive length of such a double show, it was also the almost total lack of clear narrative relevance between one show and the other, i.e. between the Dream and the Queen. It was as though the latter had been created mainly as an excuse to show off incredibly extravagant avant-garde Italianate stage effects, with magnificent music but practically no coherent story, and a parade of characters unconnected to Shakespeare’s play. Unlike Shakespeare, Purcell was alive and prolifically composing during the creation of this “semi-opera” in its first and second versions, and presumably collaborated with the group of entrepreneurs, writers, scenery builders, choreographers and dancers who were just as important to the spectator as was the composer, thanks to their skills in creating such a rich feast for the public’s eyes.
The objective difficulties for anyone wanting to stage a satisfactory “full version” of The Fairy Queen – in 2002 or at any point in the last three hundred years – effectively offered Lindsay Kemp the opportunity to create a radical but highly effective new version, with Cristophe Rousset as musical director, and my collaboration on the highly complex dramaturgy. Would we be accused of messing about with a masterpiece? Or two? Could we combine Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Purcell’s Fairy Queen in a single meaningful way? Or should we leave The Dream as a distant echo and concentrate on the fragmentary story – or handful of stories – concocted by the impresarios who had staged the magnificent but almost circus-like entertainment that opened in the Queen’s Theatre in London in 1692?
Before further describing the nature of this radically new version of The Fairy Queen, it’s worth dwelling for a moment on Lindsay’s personal relationship with the highly particular phase of English music, spectacle and drama that existed in the late seventeenth-century. This was a territory about which he had been passionate and knowledge able from his late teens, fascinated above all by Inigo Jones and his amazing designs and elaborate stage machinery used for staging lavish royal Masques, and his protracted and productive rivalry with Ben Jonson on these projects: this consisted of Jones insisting on the primacy of the eye and Jonson on the primacy of speech and story-telling. After the puritan reign of Cromwell, the Restoration had brought theatrical spectacle and pleasure surging to the fore, often incorporating Italian styles and stage techniques. Three centuries later, at the equally liberating height of Flower Power and Rock’nRoll, Lindsay Kemp’s bedside record collection was filled by – among other things – Tudor and post-Tudor music, including Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, John Dowland, Thomas Tallis and of course Henry Purcell. Alfred Deller’s voice competed for space with Mick Jagger’s. Illustrated books on Palladio, Inigo Jones and Dryden were squeezed between publications on Andy Warhol, The Doors and Joan Miró.
This was typical of his lifelong delight in spontaneous and playful creative pantheism, and also revealed one particular aspect of his broader love for many mythologised traditions of theatrical history in many cultural contexts, demonstrated too by his large collection of Old Toy Theatres, wooden Victorian or Italian puppets, and his obsession with Commedia dell’Arte archetypes and their offshoots in France and England: Pulcinella, Harlequin and Columbine, Pierrot, Mr. Punch, and their costumes, hats, masks, fans and feathers… but also older British traditions like Morris dances, Jigs, and his imaginary forefather William Kemp, Shakespeare’s clown, who supposedly danced across the Alps to Italy. Add cross-dressing, male voices for female roles and vice versa, plus his genius for simultaneously glorifying and parodying the same concepts, and you get an idea of how ready the young Lindsay was to stage a seventeenth-century Baroque opera. But unfortunately, in the heady days of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Lindsay was perpetually penniless and usually out of work, a thousand miles away from ever fulfilling his dream of directing a Baroque Opera… or at any rate, 30 years away from doing so, as it would turn out.
So… fast-forwarding to 2001, what exactly was Lindsay’s radical idea for staging The Fairy Queen? Basically it was extremely simple, being based on his forty years of experience in storytelling through music and dance-mime, particularly in The Lindsay Kemp Company’s spectacularly successful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, premiered in Rome in 1979, which toured the world for fifteen years, alternating with his other shows. In other words, our Fairy Queen would narrate a condensed version of the story of Shakespeare’s Dream by dancing to Purcell’s music. The basic dramaturgy would follow quite closely the narrative adaptation we had created to simplify the story of Shakespeare’s play in 1979, and would feature many of the speeches used back then. These spoken glimpses of Shakespeare’s poetic genius (for example the Ill met by moonlight scene and the My gentle Puck, come hither monologue, or What thou seest when thou dost wake, do it for thy true-love take), provided interesting suspensions in the music as well as invaluable information, as did the inclusion of some lines from The Fairy Queen. The speaking parts fell principally to the male and female protagonists (Oberon-Theseus and Titania-Hippolyta), and were delivered in a theatrical semi-recitative style echoing the baroque period gestures and styles of the 1692 production, as everyone did throughout the performance.
Gallery_1: Onstage photos
Lindsay and I realised that the first priority was to dialogue with Christophe Rousset, the youthful musical director, and leader of his own baroque ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, to find out how flexible he might be… after all, we were setting out to adapt Purcell to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare to Purcell. This bold concept depended on his approval, and therefore his personality. He was (and remains, twenty years later) a brilliant specialist in early music played with period instruments, but despite being famed for his extreme musical rigour we managed to develop a warm relationship over a long series of telephone calls, as he became enthusiastic, musically and aesthetically, about joining forces with us in this approach. Once he had grasped Lindsay’s basic intention and said yes (when necessary) to changing the sequence of some of Purcell’s pieces in order to fit the chronology and moods of various Shakespearean scenes, he then went further and suggested that if the right music was not available in the music for The Fairy Queen it might be possible to find what was needed in other stage music by Purcell written in roughly the same period (e.g. Abdelazer, Circe and other compositions of the early 1690s)… Lindsay and I could hardly believe our ears!
Looking back, it seems extraordinary how much freedom we were given by the producers and commissioners of this international production… perhaps because the numerous scattered co-organisers had so many different productions to organise: apart from excessive expense, nothing was forbidden to us, both from a musical and theatrical point of view. Once we had realised this, we took immediate advantage of it… and off we went! Of course, Lindsay was as always extremely persuasive in selling his talents, and (as usual) invented many of his best staging and stylistic ideas when improvising and bluffing during the early production meetings in Barcelona.
PART 2 –GESTATION
To get a rough idea of the complexity of organising this adventurous edition of The Fairy Queen (between us we aptly nicknamed it A Midsummer Night’s Fairy Queen), we can think of it in three main areas: Music and Dramaturgy – Scores and scripts, constructing a story through singing and speaking, music and dancing; Performers – Casting, rehearsing, and directing; and Design and Technology – Scenery, machinery, lighting, projections, costumes and props. These are all pretty normal ingredients when preparing an opera, but in this case everything was exceptionally lavish and ambitious… thanks to our success in hijacking the production!
First things first: we began writing a kind of technical script… intentionally and perpetually provisional, covering and synchronising in order every aspect of the operation and revised dozens of times up to the last performance (for theatrical sleuths, a scanned copy can be explored in the 15 page Script folder in the Photo Gallery 4). A simplified skeleton and cast reminder of Shakespeare’s story to begin with: Three categories of humans, i.e. Royalty (Theseus and Hippolyta); four young aristocratic lovers (Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander); and a handful of ‘working class’ comic characters (known collectively as The Mechanicals, each of whom plays a role in the amateur play-within-the play they are trying to rehearse). All these roles and categories are interwoven with a parallel Fairy Story (inhabited by Oberon, Titania, Puck and numerous fairies… plus an exotic Indian child).
All four categories have their own sub-plots, which occasionally intersect with each other… usually through the figure of Puck, in this production even more ever-present than usual, mostly due to Lindsay’s personal life-long identification with this anarchic, bacchic and childish figure, which he had played – and become totally – at the heart of The LK Company’s long-running production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Oberon’s cheeky comic court jester-trickster, an elf both earthy and aetherial.
Role changes. Our intricate weave of different stories would be performed by an extremely reduced cast: 8 specialist baroque singers and speakers (two women and six men), and 11 actor-dancers (4 lovers, 6 fairies plus Puck… plus an orchestra of twenty). Both singers and dancers had to play a minimum of 2 roles, but in many cases they played 3 or 4, with dozens of quick costume changes: for example the 6 brilliant young fairy dancers changed frequently into Shepherds or Mechanicals, or substituted singers temporarily involved in other roles by wearing copies of their costumes. Both singers and dancers had numerous quick costume changes, and in the wings, dressers and performers frequently panicked. Basically we had to fit non-Shakespearean roles and scenes into the Midsummer Night’s Dream story, in suitable places, sometimes ambiguously. For example, one comic scenes added in 1693, ‘The Drunken Poet’ (where ‘invisible’ fairies keep pinching a tipsy human) became Nick Bottom the weaver, separated from his team of craftsmen, and another two comic roles, Corydon and Mopsa, became Mechanicals, with Mopsa played as a butch high countertenor woman… a Francis Flute-come-Thisbe-come-Juliet. Further role-playing layers featured the non-Shakespearean figure of Phoebus played by Oberon dressed up as The Sun King in a Louis XIV costume, Juno became Titania, The Chinese man became a mix between Oberon and Theseus, the Chinese Woman became Columbine-Thisbe, Cupid was played by Puck, and Hymen, the god of Marriage, was played byNick Bottom-Pyramus, trying to light his flame in his crowning number in the play-within-the-play-within-the-play-within-the-opera.
For the Grand Finale, Lindsay had no interest at all in involving King William’s potted orange trees or Queen Mary’s collection of Chinese porcelain (royal flattery which stage directions in the 1693 script clearly indicate as dominating the final scenes). Instead all the different narrative strands of our ‘Midsummer Night’s Fairy Queen’ collided joyously, merging into one finale where everyone danced together in the grand Chaconne, a triumphal All you need is Love (with baroque costumes and choreography) where everyone’s layered roles overlapped in harmonically transidentical amorousness, Kings and Queens dancing with Fairies who were dancing with Lovers who were dancing with Mechanicals transformed into traditional Commedia dell’Arte characters.
Staging. Now is the time to move on to another equally important aspect of our Baroque Fairytale Dream, i.e. the design of sets, lighting, costumes, props and techno-aesthetic operations. Here was where the Baroque mood really came into its own, devoting itself to seducing and delighting the eye, in the spirit of Inigo Jones and the designers, architects and stage craftsmen in The Queen’s Theatre in London 1692. It was also very much in the spirit of Lindsay Kemp the showman and bewitcher, the dazzler, painter and colour-mixer… and the child in love with his cardboard toy theatres, imagining, imagining…
Here another key collaborator enters downstage left, for the moment replacing Christophe Rousset as a focus, namely Lorenzo Cutuli. Lindsay always approached opera staging from the viewpoint of its original creators, using modern technology, if necessary, to join hands with the original seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth century music, in order to tell the original creators’ story… so from the first Fairy Queen moment he was absolutely sure that scenery, costumes and all visual elements (including choreography and gestures) should celebrate the baroque period. And this meant finding the right collaborators, i.e. highly skilled and experienced designers and artists in various fields who would find viable ways to turn his visions into fact. Theatre in the Baroque period was an incredibly elite artform, made possible only through funding from the very peaks of society’s power pyramid… and the amount of painted scenery and complex mechanical flying machinery for each Fairy Act would have been practically impossible in the twentieth century. But we had just tiptoed into the twenty-first century, and a whole series of electrical and digital technologies were developing. So we needed a design team who could recreate baroque period theatrical effects through video and other contemporary methods.
We had first met Lorenzo Cutuli as a young designer in the theatre of his home city Ferrara, during the fit-up for the premiere of Onnagata in 1990. He had seen many of Lindsay’s productions and was thrilled to meet him. He showed us various interesting designs, some for a series of exhibitions and some for future operas, with a taste for rococo. Subsequently, he kept in touch, and sent us a number of impressive opera set designs he was successfully staging. Most of these showed his growing skills in digital design and electronic creation, an area that Lindsay knew offered all kinds of new opportunities, particularly in terms of current developments in video-projection.
By late 2001, we had agreed with Lorenzo that he would be in charge of all the video and digital aspects, involving various Italian players in this field with whom he was already collaborating. This logically then led to establishing his wider role as set designer, implementing Lindsay’s requests. This in turn led to the involvement of a series of high quality theatrical suppliers in northern Italy, which Lorenzo could coordinate and follow… including ad hoc masks and wigs, Titania’s motorised remote-controlled snail-carriage, the construction and painting of the set, and the creation and projection of the video images. This key Italian contribution seemed somehow fitting as part ofour pan-European collaboration, especially since the original Fairy Queen production in London had featured a strong Italian flavour, particularly in its elaborate scenic effects and technology. In every field, our challenge was to echo baroque traditions using emergingtwenty-first century techniques, notable especially in the pioneering work of Sergio Metalli and his company Ideogamma and its virtual scenery effects, here employed to develop and project Lorenzo’s digital designs. In this respect our production was in many ways a forerunner event: today, twenty years later – especially in the inherently non-realistic world of baroque opera – theatrical technology has gone incredibly far further down the roads that were opening up in 2001.
Of course, the arch-centraliser insisted on us frequently zigzagging around northern Italy to check progress in all departments, usually leaving a trail of despondent suppliers with long lists of modifications to be made… not to mention poor Lorenzo, constrained to rework his designs again and again and again. As for the centraliser, Lindsay by nature was the centre, and the programme credits which may seem excessive – ‘Sets by Lindsay Kemp and Lorenzo Cutuli, costumes by Lindsay Kemp and Josep Massagué, Lighting by Lindsay Kemp and Kiko Planas, Choreography by Alvaro de la Peña and Lindsay Kemp’– corresponded to the truth (at least Lorenzo managed a lone credit, for images and projections!). No area was immune from Lindsay’s beady eye, and no detail was too small to justify an entire afternoon spent searching haberdashery shops for the right colour for a certain character’s buttons, rhinestones or feathers. True, he loved it all like a child, and the singers even grudgingly forgave him for spraying their costumes with pungently smelly spraypaint just before they made their entrances… but more importantly, Lindsay demonstrated how the richer and more complex a production is, the more it benefits from a dominant centre to hold it together: every detail in a coherent style. No compromises, occasional tantrums, but an all-inclusive team spirit based on Lindsay’s passion,and also his encouragement, his laughter, his friendliness and his sense of humour.
People. The first people we dealt with on this project were – very briefly – various top brass international cultural political and administrative commissioners and their representatives, through the executive producers in Barcelona. At some point in late 2001, Lindsay was hauled like a captured exotic creature into a huge solemn press conference in Madrid announcing all the following year’s European Cultural Capital artistic events. Or rather, it was solemn until Lindsay was introduced: we had been told that he would be asked just one brief question about his intentions for The Fairy Queen, which he should answer equally briefly: instead, his answer was to jump immediately into his performing monkey act from a very different circus, singing his favourite Carmen Miranda song (Ay ayayayay I like you very much) while miming a wild arm-whirling castanet dance, throwing in the occasional flamenco cry “Andajaleo, jaleo!” He followed this with a flood of improvised comments on his childhood and jokes about his mother, which I translated into Spanish in slightly milder versions. Having been preceded by an hour of acute boredom, this caused waves of relieved laughter among the press… and numerous raised eyebrows among the international dignitaries. After several minutes, he concluded with a flourish and a sudden immobile pose reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty, then, widening his eyes with childish innocence, asked loudly, parodying a baritone voice, “My intentions for The Fairy Queen? Entertainment! Beauty! And Magic! Olé!” Loud applause followed. (I should add that among this man’s many skills was his life-long gift for seducing the press and providing them with extravagantly colourful improvised copy, leaving them smiling but not quite sure how much was genuine and how much was pure invention).
The Madrid press conference must have been the first time we met Christophe Rousset in the flesh: Lindsay’s antics may have left him wondering what he was letting himself in for, but it was encouraging to see his laughter. After that, on all musical issues we were able to deal directly with him, with no intermediaries. For all other aspects we would deal directly with the executive producers, Angel Dominguez and his Barcelona-based production company ‘Otello’: no more political dignitaries! Angel and Carol Mùrcia had also been executive producers of The Magic Flute for the Peralada Festival in 1998… so we were among friends. Catalan friends, who subsequently involved various skilled Catalan artistic and artisan suppliers, thus creating yet another multinational cultural pool involved in this project.
Barcelona – which had previously been Lindsay’s much-loved home for most of the 1980s, before he moved to Italy – became the centre of Fairy operations. How had we managed to organise productions before internet?…today all those archived faxes can tell us nothing, having long since faded away with their whispered secrets. Lindsay and I made numerous visits to the Catalan capital, often combined with trips to Santander on Madame Butterfly business (due to premiere only a few weeks after The Fairy Queen). In both places, we planned timetables, manoeuvring incessantly for more time… especially more rehearsal time. For example, diaries tell me thatin April 2002 we were in Barcelona for auditions and meetings from 23rd to 26th, and then from 27th to 30th for auditions and meetings in Santander. For The Fairy Queen, we had already appealed to Christophe to cast his singers bearing in mind their theatrical assets (skills, ages, shapes, stagecraft and charisma) as well as musical ones… and when we met them all some months later, Lindsay was delighted: they demonstrated powerful stage impact, a sense of humour and a fascinating mixture of personalities and nationalities. A blessing for the personal and artistic destiny of this project.
Casting dancers. In our visit to Barcelona on 23rd to 26th April, a most inspiring casting process for our dancers took place over several days and call-backs, upstairs in a spacious and beautiful second-floor rehearsal studio above the Teatre Poliorama, off Las Ramblas, near Plaça De Catalunya. Someone in Otello must have been extremely efficient in advertising and organising roughly fifty young male and female dancers, with an extraordinary amount of talent spread among them, and with almost as manyboys as girls (almost unheard of). We had been shown the studio on an earlier visit, for Lindsay’s approval, and he had found it perfect: he was always extremely sensitive about working and rehearsing spaces, which absolutely had to have – in order of importance – sprung wooden floors, ample space, abundant natural light, clean acoustics and high ceilings and a sense of tradition pasts – in order to be “fully inspiring”. The Poliorama studio had all the requirements for inspiration, and more, and its name – based on the ancient Greek, meaning ‘many fine things to see’ – proved prophetic. Especially when it filled up with so many shining faces and bodies… perhaps in part because one long exterior wall was nearly all glass, situated behind us, at our desk, while the opposite long wall, in dark wooden colours, had no windows and was behind the dancers facing us, who were therefore perfectly illuminated in full frontal towards us. From the start, there was anelectric atmosphere… the organisers had told us they’d been astonished at the number of people who had signed up to an audition advertised on Lindsay’s public request as being “for young actor-dancers with professional experience and a thirst for adventure”. It reminded us that in December 1977, with Flowers, Barcelona was where we had first performed in Spain – at the time still basically part of a fascist regime, even over a year after Franco’s death – and that the Catalan capitol had then embraced The Lindsay Kemp Company more intensely than anywhere else in the world, thanks also to its contribution in breaking the post-Francoist cultural paralysis… so 25 years later it was not so surprising that a new Catalan generation was so fascinated by the chance to work with a living myth.
They had been divided randomly into two groups of roughly 25 people, for 6-hour group sessions with lunch break, on two consecutive days, from which the best of each group were selected to form a new group on the third day. Lindsay was at his most inspired, and both groups – pushed to exhausting physical and emotional limits – fell in love with him, as he did with far too many of them. In 45 years of close collaboration, I had seen this kind of group osmosis many times in his workshops, but never in such a total way as this… and in a context where everyone was theoretically in competition with one another! There were many hours of studies with all kinds of different music, based on falling in love with one another, gazing into each other’s eyes, swooning, seducing, embracing, then turning into demons, fighting, flying, leaping, sharing each other’s sweat in a heap on the floor –frequently demonstrated and joined physically by Lindsay himself, of course… especially during the heaps of bodies on the floor. It was no wonder that over a few days both groups had abandoned themselves to each other, setting the stage for a process that would continue to grow until the ecstatic culmination during and after the last performances in Salamanca.
As always, whenever Lindsay had to “choose” some people and “reject” others, he suffered terribly… (having been rejected so many times after auditions in his youth)… and for this Fairy Dream it took several anguished days to decide who to take and who should play which parts, both for the large roles of the four lovers and Puck, and for the six other dancers playing elves, fairies, and occasionally other parts. Eventually, everyone was notified: those with bad news received apologies and encouragements for their futures, those with good news received contracts and warm hasta luego messages.
Preparations and collaborators. Meanwhile, from May to August, Lindsay had numerous demanding non-opera commitments, as well as non-stop preparation work on countless aspects of The Fairy Queen and Madame Butterfly, but time was found to sprint backwards and forwards to northern Italy, southern Spain and northern Spain to check on progress. The Fairy Queen, it must be admitted, was the more demanding of the two productions, particularly in terms of costumes: instead of heaps of old kimonos, we had extravagant baroque trimmings, armour, sceptres and crowns, exquisite hand props, a ventilated donkey’s head and a giant movable snail, plus floods off eathers, hats, boots, wigs, masks, makeup, sequins, lace, silk … all painstakingly assembled in the Peris Sastreria Teatral (or ‘Dress Art’) costume makersin Barcelona, beautifully tailored by Judit Rafel, following Lindsay’s requests… he adored the place. Perhaps this was one of the reasons we spent so much time in Barcelona, on and off during 2002, to choose and meet his Spanish collaborators: in the costume department this meant the distinguished Catalan designer Josep Massagué, an austere, elderly and friendly figure, who fairly soon became less and less present, perhaps because he respectfully realised that Lindsay had no need of a collaborator. Kiko Planas was a young but experienced lighting designer who had actually been appointed due to an error involving the similar names oftwo different lighting designer, but he who valiantly, efficiently and patiently followed Lindsay’s often contradictory lighting requests. The countless props were beautifully made by Maria de Frutos. Perhaps the most important collaborator at this stage, in any case, was the Ctalan choreographer Alvaro de la Peña. He too eventually realised that Lindsay knew exactly what he wanted, in creative terms: this meant studying Lindsay’s books on Victorian fairy painters (Fuselli, Dadd, Paton, etc.) as Lindsay explained why “modern dance” was not called for. The poses and movements he wanted were simple and “natural”… i.e. running, jumping, skipping, spinning and cartwheeling in time with the music: a kind of childish vision of dancing, echoing a thousand paintings, many of them from the baroque period. There were some teething problems with Alvaro, whose own choreographic style was extremely different, but in the end he adapted and created admirable, harmonious and inventive group dances for both the lovers and the elves and fairies. A key collaboration.
Gallery_2: programme texts
PART 3 – BIRTH
Rehearsals. The discussions, sketches and preparations continued on and off until a few days before beginning rehearsals on Tuesday August 20th in Barcelona, where we would remain until Friday 20th of September. The rehearsal schedule is revealing: 1st week: 4 lovers and Puck; 2nd week: same plus 6 fairy dancers; 3rd week: same plus the two lead singers for the roles of Titania/Hippolyta and Oberon/Theseus; 4th week: full cast/including the 6 remaining singers, in a larger rehearsal space; 5th week: all performers in run-throughs plus orchestra, some technicians, props, costumes, etc. The first two weeks had allowed precious time for sketching out the structure of the whole show (long since contained in the Script, but in need of testing and fleshing out), as well as developing the scenes involving the lovers and Puck.
From the first day, it was clear that the casting choices made three months earlier in the inspirational casting studio (now our rehearsal studio) remained as talented as hoped: above all Héctor Manzanares, despite his initial shyness, confirmed our feeling that he had a Puck in him which Lindsay could bring out… and before long he became a perfect mischievously anarchic elf. We had been so lucky to find him! The same thing applied to Xavier Martinez, a brilliant dancer in a beautiful body, but with bulging eyes that helped him intelligently shape a perfect comic Demetrius (he would become a close friend and important performing and choreographic collaborator on many projects over the next fifteen years). Marc de Pablo was as handsome and romantic as a Lysander should be, a perfect match with Maria José Soler’s Hermia, just as Claudia de Siato’s bony Helena was destined to finally fit with Demetrius… and be tall enough to justify Hermia’s obsession about being short. All grew to master the unfamiliar narrative mime-dance acting style perfected by Lindsay with his Company over the preceding forty years.
The second week brought further confirmation of the joyful energy and intelligence of the 3 fairies and 3 elfin dancers selected in the original magic auditions: Johanna Laber, Cristina Molina, Susana Vilella the fairies, Eneko Alcaraz, Xevi Dorca and Jordi Ros the elves… all of them as worthy to be named here as any other performer in the production. They also succeeded in learning the clean storytelling gestural discipline demanded by Lindsay, allowing them to slip in and out of frozen (but living) tableaux without distracting attention from the singers or key figures… as Lindsay had explained to groups of performers hundreds of times, “you must use the direction of your gaze, your simplified gestures and your body poses to help the spectator know where to lookat any given moment.” You cancheck this now, in the fairy scenes in the Fairy Queen Photo Gallery 1, still amazingly vivacious and disciplined after all these years!
The third week introduced two new key pieces of the expanding jigsaw puzzle, i.e. the first two singers to be blended with the dancers: the soprano Anne Lise Sollied as Hippolyta and Titania, and the lightish tenor Anders Dahlin as Theseus and Oberon… (n.b. programme cast lists for 2002, printed early, mistakenly indicate the latter two roles as played by Topi Lehtipuu). Anne and Anders began their stylistic adaptations to fit Lindsay’s movement and gestural requests, with additional emphasis (being royalty as humans and as fairies) on boldly baroque gestures. Anders, being younger and less experienced than Anne Lise, found this change of style more difficult, but his natural immaturity and slight awkwardness was tailored to fit a more interesting balance with Anne Lise’sradiant characterisation… and he learned quickly. Both also had to spend many hours on fitting and modifying their several extremely rich and complex baroque costumes and accessories (they would later find they had to spend the whole show repeatedly changing costumes backwards and forwards between the two different lead roles they both played)!
The fourth week saw the plunge – or take-off – of full cast presence (fortunately, the ‘chorus’ consisted simply of all eight soloist singers, who had thoroughly rehearsed their music the previous month with Christophe in Paris). This was the most exciting moment so far, the baptism of fire when all nineteen artistes began to gel together… in a crescendo of individual and collective needs and confusions, punctuated by moments of professional and personal pleasure in making new acquaintances. The singing cast consisted of two sopranos, two basses, and four very different kinds of tenors. Thierry Félix, the most mature, was a light bass with the responsibility of dealing with many roles and costume changes (Bottom and his various roles and transformations); the dancing soprano Valérie Gabail (a Fairy with numerous arias, and also Columbine); the three overdressed courtier tenor fops to Titania’s Queen, Robert Getchell as the Chamberlain, Cyril Auvity as Le Préferè and Bernard Loonen as Monsieur Le Beau (who also played both Mopsa and Thisbe: three roles in all). I mention the second (deeper) bass, Ivan Garcia, last of all, since his principal role was perhaps the production’s most brilliant, daring and amusing invention, namely The Changeling: for Shakespeare The Changeling was an exotic Indian infant, traditionally cradled in Titania’s arms and played onstage by a friend of a friend’s baby, whereas our Changeling was a tall, handsome, dark-skinned and extremely muscular figure whose bare torso, exotic jewellery and cavernously deep voice left no need for explanation as to why Titania was so besotted with him (and Oberon so eager to tiptoe away, leading him by the hand). Ivan’s Winter aria, sung as a black-cloaked figure of Death wearing a skull mask, would be a chilling highlight.
By the fifth week, the marvels were gradually assembling, but with a sense of time running out: a larger rehearsal studio could accommodate Titania’s remote controlled snail carriage plus the additional presence of many more people, as other technical aspects began to be integrated with run-throughs. For example the addition and trials of the recorded sound effects… (another sign of how Christophe was willing to collaborate with Lindsay’s desire for maximum narrative continuity, in the face of purist disapproval): these were used frequently, mainly for casting magic spells or during transitions between scenes, featuring owl calls, thunderbolts, crickets, birdsong and subtle atmospheres). Other additions included stage management personnel ironing out cues, entrances and exits, likewise the organisation and use of the props by Maria de Frutos, the wardrobe crew for quick changes, discussions on lighting and the cues for projections… all on the bumpy road to assembling a looming totality. The last run-through in Barcelona took place on the morning of the 20th of September, followed immediately by departure for Bilbao, and the Teatro Arriaga, where the World Premiere would take place one week later.
Bilbao. In the Basque Countries’ largest city, varied rehearsals were held in spaces outside the theatre for the first few days, while inside the theatre the fixed painted wooden scenery was finally assembled, along with the various movable drapes, curtains, painted tulles and borders. Simultaneously, the lighting bars went up and were eventually focused, and the video projector technology was implemented and fine-tuned. Gradually we were able to see what the production would, hopefully, look like. Lindsay’s ambitious basic conception of mixing three scenic techniques – a) traditional fixed painted wooden flats, b) numerous flown tulle or fabric guignols or vertical curtains (both inspired by toy theatres), and c) video-projections and lighting – was finally tested in 3D, as overseen and coordinated by Lorenzo Cutuli. The various visual ‘moods began to emerge: for the four lovers, the painted tulle backdrops (and the costumes) echoed the romantic period and the slightly austere rococo style of Jean-Antoine Watteau. The rough Mechanicals’ scenes tended towards bold Commedia dell’Arte costumes and colours. And the Fairies, being magical creatures, had the benefit of scenery projected upstage onto a pale grey PVC screen, which for their scenes showed mostly the roots of huge trees, and in the distance tree-trunks, to emphasise the much smaller scale of elves and fairies, as well as underlining their nocturnal natures. Transitions or overlaps between these different worlds were not always easy, especially at first. Many of the moods for such scenes were resolved by narrative quotations inspired by Lindsay’s much loved Max Reinhardt 1935 Hollywood film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga was a huge neo-baroque building, dominated by pompous red plush, resplendent but not really ideal for a relatively compact production like this… but our main worry as we arrived was the enormity of technical and organisational problems and coordinations still to be sorted out… in a very short time. Many things had to be sketched hurriedly, hoping to improve them at last minutes which never materialised before the first night: an occasion which suffered from numerous technical glitches, although not necessarily noticeable to the public. For me, memory of this fabled milestone would mercifully soon fade into mist: at the end of the premiere, as the applause continued vigorously after the last curtain call, the director colaborador (no names mentioned) was instantly and furiously screamed at for everything that had gone wrong and for ruining the whole performance and possibly the director’s entire career. This went on for several melodramatic minutes, until Lindsay was distracted by a crowd of thrilled autograph hunters and then by a line of congratulating dignitaries. The director colaborador – who up to then, after many decades of collaboration with the Director, had considered himself practically immune to such (not infrequent) scenes – on that particular occasion found it surprisingly difficult to instantly have to reorganise the planning schedule and insist on adding new technicians’ shifts for the following morning’s “rest day”, when there would be no rest at all for the technical department, or the colaborador.
Meanwhile, a sumptuous formal institutional banquet was beginning, where extremely expensive suits, dresses and jewels mingled with shell-shocked figures in torn jeans or exotic hippyish garments, topped by faces showing undeniable traces of white makeup, glitter and red lips. And as the champagne flowed, all was forgiven or forgotten, and the director colaborador returned seamlessly to another of his roles, as Lindsay’s translator… and rapid provider of orange juice every time a handsome waiter offered the maestro champagne. Meanwhile members of the orchestra danced with elves and fairies, and the singers danced with the lovers. From then on, The Fairy Queen would bring us only pleasure.
Travelling lighter. The second performance in Bilbao went smoothly, although it was, as is usual on second nights, a little less memorable. But it left everyone feeling that all the ingredients of the show had now come together, and could be further developed and enjoyed in Salamanca. Which was where we all set off for, on Monday 30th of October 2002… proceeded by two monster truck-fulls of scenery and assorted materials, dismantled and loaded overnight in Bilbao. A limousine had been prepared for Lindsay, but he insisted on travelling by coach together with all his new friends. A bleary-eyed company slept for an hour or so on the crowded coach, and then gradually awoke, as Lindsay was begging for his habitual “pee-pee stop”, (which always turned into a prolonged shopping trip). Later there was an improvised singing competition between groups of French, Spanish and Italian singers and songs… to top this off, Lindsay insisted on performing his favourite parody party piece baritone rendition of the English Music Hall marching song “Goodbye Dolly I must leave you”, complete with choreography, marching exaggeratedly up and down the central aisle. Inevitably, he was voted the winner.
Salamanca. After a playful four-hour journey and hotel check-in, everyone was supposed to rest, disperse and explore Salamanca… but in practise, everyone soon ended up appearing little by little in the theatre, unable to resist the temptation to see the site of their approaching climax, a building about which they had heard so much. Effectively, the Teatro Liceo was a jewel steeped in history and change. It perfectly answered Lindsay’s lifelong fascination for “theatres filled with ghosts and magic.” In Bilbao everyone had felt a bit like nervous intruders, but here the Fairy Team found themselves feeling welcome and excited. The Liceo had only been reopened a few months earlier after a major 8-year restructuring operation which had restored its simple 19th century Italianate auditorium, built within an 18th century Convent containing a 17th century palace tower… three centuries of enrichment, but fitted with brand new backstage areas, dressing rooms and latest generation technical equipment. Above all, its reduced dimensions were perfect for this intimate production, and the stunning simplicity of the auditorium enhanced the baroque extravagance onstage.
Perchance to Dream. The move into the Liceo coincided with a collective sensation among everyone involved with the production: an intense feeling of just how powerful, magical and precious was the thing being created and approaching its culmination. A shared mood, rendered all the deeper by the awareness that soon this “thing” would then vanish, and that all the webs of friendship and love that were now opening and interweaving in crescendo –like a dream or a never-ending gesture – would start to fade away.
Gallery_3: Backstage and pixels
Pleasures. The first of October was supposed to be a rest day for the performers, while the technicians mounted sets, projections and lighting, and props, costumes and make-up departments unpacked and prepared their departments. I was unable to persuade Lindsay to make it a rest day for himself: he soon appeared in the theatre and threw himself into scuttling from one department to another, retouching and reading out his notes from the shows in Bilbao to wigs and make-up, costumes and props, stage management, and lighting. And he was not the only unexpected visitor: during the whole day performers and musicians came and went of their own accord, organising make-shift rehearsal spaces… in the foyer the dancers did their class and then improvised a rehearsal with Alvaro, and in their dressing rooms the singers filled the whole backstage area with their vocal exercises.
A pair of new spacious modern lift continuously floated up and down between 3 floors backstage… frequently, I began to notice, on all floors the lifts would redepart the instant they stopped at a floor, without the doors opening, three or four times, up and down, until sooner or later, the doors finally sprang open too soon to restart… and two figures would be revealed, trying to look innocent but caught red-handed and red-faced, before laughing and running off in different directions. This happened with increasing frequency all week, in strikingly changeable pairings… the increasingly popular practice became known as love-lifting, and led firstly to two semi-serious notes being pinned up outside the lift doors, “No kissing in the lifts”, which of course further encouraged it, whether real or pretended. On the day before the opening, the lift system broke down, and was only repaired the following morning… when the system was reset to open automatically after each journey and remain open for at least 10 seconds before reuse. But “the damage”, the inebriating erotic contagion – as irresistible as Puck’s magic love-flower – had already, laughingly and breathlessly spread backstage… and beyond.
Love and Loves. Lindsay’s weeks and months of incantations on love in classes and rehearsals were partly to blame: for example, as always, in all his productions, he was fanatical about the bows being exactly as he wanted them… extremely disciplined and with one foot still within the performance. He could never stand the sight of performers triumphantly drinking in the public’s praise with a “wasn’t I wonderful” expression. So when rehearsing the bows he would submerge the performers in his poetic chants… “You are saying thank you to the public, you are giving them your love… your eyes must gather every one of them, thanking them, offering yourself to them, and lifting them with your inner light… love, love! Love! Free them to take away and treasure whatever they’ve seen or heard. At one with all the cast. And all the public. Love! Love! ”Whether or not he had performed, he always bowed at the end of every performance, guiding the cast, often audibly, almost hypnotically. One tongue-in-cheek sequence he loved went like this: “For you! For you! Lifting… Rising, rising! Eyes slowly lifting higher, levitating, rising up towards the gods, up to the students in the cheap seats! That’s where you’ll find the good lookers! Yes please!” Such were his irresistible instigations to love… of all kinds… a months’ long slow-motion permeation of everything and everyone in this group trance.
PART 4 – FLIGHT
Performances. Early in the morning of the 4th of October, the day of the longed-for opening in Salamanca, over twenty company performers and personnel (including Christophe Rousset) burst into the bedroom of the still sleeping Xavier Martinez (Demetrius) for a surprise birthday greeting which ended up with his bed collapsing during an extremely loud multilingual rendition of the happy birthday anthem as various champagne corks popped… another example of just how collectively and literally spellbound everyone connected to our Midsummer Night’s Fairy Queen was becoming.
The above Fairy Queen Photo Gallery 3, headed Backstage and Pixels includes several snapshots with the date clearly visible. One shows Lindsay, on the 4th of October 2002, with half a dozen cans of spray paint, busy spraying the silver capes of Titania’s three courtiers: PROOF that the three singers’ grumbling about not being able to breathe that evening onstage, due to the stink of spray-paint, were bona fide! Fortunately their affection for Lindsay made them forgive him. The performance that night was magical. Indescribable… for the reasons you will probably have guessed by now. Transformation. Offstage and Onstage were increasingly melting into one another… not just among the performers, but everyone involved with the production.
In the same informal Photo Gallery 3, the first snapshot image – visibly dated 6-10-2002 – shows an elf with green hair and large elfin ears. The photo was taken only moments before what at the time was going to be the last performance of this production, and the elf was that the paradigm of aesthetic rigour, Christophe Rousset. And so the last performance of this semi-opera and total dream was conducted by an elf, and with most of the orchestra wearing white makeup on their faces… a collective gesture of playful creative commitment they had made entirely on their own initiative, which reflected and further boosted the entire company’s sensation of seizing the final performance-moment of climax, lift-off, freedom and perfection.
And so it was. No traditional last show jokes, no panic, no errors, just the total faith and determination of every part of the whole “thing” to deliver the indescribable ultimate performance. Gloria and Magnificat.
Farewells. Of course it ended with the bows, the “eyes rising towards the gods (traditional English term for the highest and furthest seats in traditional theatres)… to the students in the cheap seats… where you’ll find the good lookers.” And up in the gods with the good lookers was the dimension where everyone seemed to remain suspended. As the mass of melted embraces and kissing that swamped the stage immediately, behind the final curtain, refused to melt away entirely. So much so that all specific memory of that performance quickly became inaccessible during its immediate aftermath, the dismantling of sets, equipment, dressing rooms and departments. Then, for hours, everyone no longer working disappeared. Until later, little by little, they reappeared in various places, each in a sensual limbo. Months and months of magic on a last night became an all-night affair, a slow-motion replay of the Midsummer Night’s Dream story with everyone under the spells of love, still dreaming without limits or identities. Surrender and longing, falling in love again and again, drifting from one hotel to another, from one room to another or one bar to another… wandering singly, in couples, or slowly fluctuating groups, last chances, last farewells, last hopes, last drinks, sleepwalking and dreamwalking towards a bruised red dawn. Later came the dispersion, the sleeping oblivious on coaches and blurred at airport check-in desks. No one would ever know all the mysteries of that night, the loves and friendships in the no-mans-land between the collective Dream and the Return to Earth. But I know that many people carried a hidden smile in their hearts for many moons, and some of them forever.
Post Scriptum: Horror Vacui
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do many people, especially operatic performers. But sometimes deep magic and love lingers on like oxygen in the heart… for participants and spectators… just enough to breathe. So the Rousset-Kemp production of The Fairy Queen began its journey towards oblivion… after four triumphal performances in two Spanish cities. 2002 was long ago in terms of internet, and sadly little trace remains on search engines, most of it in Spanish. To add a little something to the vacuum, could someone please get it at least mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for Purcell’s The Fairy Queen?! Proof sources on lindsaykemp.eu!
Lindsay was to resume his life-long communion with A Midsummer Night’s Dream less than two years later, in January 2004, with an inspired staging of Benjamin Britten’s Opera version in Livorno, Pisa and Lucca.
And roughly three years after all the eternal nocturnal farewells in and around the Teatro Liceo in Salamanca, our production of The Fairy Queen was resurrected for two performances in May 2006, in Malaga. Many of the technical and artistic staff returned, but two fine lovers had to be recast in Malaga (Célian Nuñez and Pedro Aunion), as did a couple of elves and fairies. Christophe and his musicians were unfortunately not free, but most of the singers were able and delighted to return. A superb but smaller musical ensemble was conducted by Eric Hull. As resurrections go it was slightly rushed and rusty, but also still impressively magical and true to itself. So at least… a bittersweet consolation for an undeserved loss… it did reach six performances and six audiences. But it could have reached so much further: to London, Paris, Japan or Italy. It would have cost a lot, but having been already brought to life it could have been revived at a fairly normal Opera production price. But its echo remained confined to Spain.
Thus ended our production of The Fairy Queen. A baroque production if ever there was one, and a baroque full-immersion experience, generated by Lindsay Kemp’s thirty-year baroque dream having finally come true… a sweet baroque cure for Horror Vacui, whose extravagance Lindsay knew well how to express, but also how to discipline strictly. It was also his farewell to the baroque: as though having finally satisfied his youthful rococo itch, he could now begin his long journey towards simplicity… a voyage embarked upon on just a week after Salamanca, rehearsing Madame Butterfly in Santander, preparing a simpler and more tragic kind of fullness.
The Midsummer Night’s Fairy Queen, as we nicknamed it, was one of Lindsay Kemp’s greatest celebrations of beauty and love. I hope my sometimes wandering baroque portrait of the Artist-Director and his Production does them both some justice.
Gallery_4: Script working copy