Today’s summer second thought is the 2004 Salzburg festival production of Purcell’s King Arthur. I really enjoyed this first time around and I think it stands up extremely well to repeat viewing. I pretty much stand by my original review but certain aspects of the production did stand out on repeat viewing. The first thing that struck me is how these English 17th century works are very much a blend of the vulgar and the sublime (one could argue that that is the defining characteristic of English culture; from Chaucer to Trooping the Colour). This production, like Jonathan Kent’s The Fairy Queen, successfully blends the two elements. There’s a really good example at the very end where Michael Schade’s panty strewn rock star “Harvest Home” is followed by a gorgeous and dignifieed “Fairest Isle from Barabara Bonney but there’s lots more; much of reinforced by the sort of special effects that a Restoration audience would have loved. There’s also some real depth in how it’s done. First up I found the Merlin dressed as banker’s wife episode very funny but just that. On rewatching I realised that much more is going on as the scene segs into Merlin explaining to Arthur that everything around him is an illusion.
The second main thing that struck me is how much this production leans on Michael Schade. When I first saw this DVD I wasn’t especially aware of Schade. Since then I’ve seen him on stage and in concert on at least five occasions and my admiration for him as a stylish singing actor has grown. Here he really shines. He pops up in so many different personae it’s really amazing that he can pull it off and everyone, from sinister pagan something or other at the beginning to boxing MC to rock star, has its own deft touches. He sings rather well too.
Another thing that struck me is how startlingly jingoistic the last act is. It could do duty as The Last Night of the Proms. I struggled to get my head around this a bit, partly because the dialogue is in German so one isn’t quite sure what’s Dryden and what’s not, but mainly it’s the proto-Imperial England predicting future greatness, now long gone, in a production in a country that has actually come to terms with loss of empire in a way the UK (or at least the English part of it) never has. If you see what I mean.
Final thought; it’s really hard to film a production effectively in the Felsenreitschüle. The DVD audience misses a lot in this recording but it’s really hard to see how the video director could have done much better given the size and odd configuration of the space.