Printable CopyKING ARTHUR
State Opera SA
Elder Hall
Until 19 Feb 2019

Review by Tony Busch

Written when Henry Purcell had lost his royal patronage and had to survive as a freelance composer, “King Arthur” proved to be quite a success in 1691. Similarly this version, created by Paul McCreesh for the Gabrieli Consort, proves a winner.

John Dryden’s original libretto for King Arthur has undergone several reworkings and some of Purcell’s music has been lost across the centuries, requiring McCreesh to adapt the climax of another work, “Dioclesian”, referred to in the program as ‘Diocelsian’ (sic), to close the show. But these are minor distractions from what is a thoroughly enjoyable production.

The Gabrieli Consort are as skilled a period orchestra as any and McCreesh manages to coax a truly marvellous sound from them, silky soft and sweet when required and bristling with bravado when needed. The dectet of strings, two recorders doubling oboes, bassoon, trumpet, harpsichord and two theorbos all played with consummate control.

A core group of six singers shared the solos, duets and the trio, delivering some beautifully nuanced vocals in all of their performances.

Mhairi Lawson was an excellent Cupid, Hugo Hymas shone in the final climax and Anna Dennis was superb in the work’s best known piece “Fairest Isle”.

It’s a delight to be able to enjoy such a pedigreed group and a treat to hear a live performance of a work normally accessible only on recording.