Taking Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as its starting point, Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen uses some of the original story to further explore the supernatural world ruled by Titania and Oberon. The musical numbers of this opera are designed as dances, songs, and masques which fit in between the scenes of Shakespeare’s play, although they are often used as a standalone piece.
The fairies entertain Titania and the Indian Boy, before the Sentinels of the night arrive to put them to sleep. In the morning, Oberon and Puck have found Titania, and they watch as Phoebus, the God of the Sun, brings the sunrise. With the new day, Duke Theseus finds out the events that have passed between the lovers, Lysander, Helena, Hermia, and Demetrius, the previous night, and the wedding is arranged. As a new world is revealed, the gods Juno and Hymen arrive to bring their blessings on the three couples that are now due to be married. Titania and Oberon also offer their blessings on the newlyweds.
Although the plot is primarily allegorical, and is in danger of losing something without the background of the original play, The Fairy-Queen comprises of some of Purcell’s best music. It can be performed by as few as five soloists with a chorus, or it could have limitless numbers of performers taking on the roles from the play, the opera, and the masques.