Saturday pick: Sequoia Symphony brings live opera, ‘The Fairy Queen,’ to Visalia

Sequoia Symphony

The production: “The Fairy Queen,” known as a “semi-opera” by 17th century English composer Henry Purcell, will be performed 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at the Visalia Fox Theatre. Tickets are $35 general, $10 students 18 and under.

The UCSC connection: Sequoia Symphony music director Bruce Kiesling also conducts the university orchestra at UC Santa Cruz, including the university’s annual opera presentation. He conducted “Fairy Queen” on May 27 and 28 in Santa Cruz. Twelve members of the Sequoia Symphony made the trip. They were joined by 10 student musicians. Now, a slimmed-down version of the production — directed by Sheila Willey — is making the return trip to Visalia.

The inspiration: Purcell wrote the Baroque piece as incidental music for Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In this version of the work, Purcell’s vocal and instrumental movements are interspersed with dialogue from Shakespeare’s play.

The characters: The opera includes favorite Shakespeare characters, such as the mischievous Puck, who also places a spell on Bottom, turning his head into that of a donkey, writes Donna Orozco in the Visalia Times-Delta.

The format: Writing in the Santa Cruz Good Times, Christina Waters explains: “Edited by Purcell’s librettist, the spoken dialogue prompts the musical interludes for soloists and chorus. The spoken text is Shakespeare’s, and the musical portions don’t so much illustrate that text as embellish and interpret it.”

The combination: As originally conceived, it’s essentially a Shakespearean play plus an opera. But there’s been some judicious trimming. “It’s basically an incidental score that fleshes out some characters (and adds even more),” Kiesling tells me. “When performed together, it would be 4+ hours, making a LONG night. Our production in Santa Cruz was about half that long, and we’ll be even a bit shorter here in Visalia.”


The company: There are 13 principal actors/singers coming from Santa Cruz for the Visalia production, which is semi-staged (not the full set and lighting), Kiesling says. Costumes are making the trip as well.

The orchestra: “We’re doing a bit of a scaled down version of what we presented in Santa Cruz — especially as it’s the first time we’ve done something like this,” Kiesling says. “We had 10 students playing side-by-side with our Sequoia Symphony players, mostly our strongest string players, who I invited to join us the professional musicians for the production up there, but they aren’t making the trip this time — just the cast. The orchestra is small — just strings, continuo, and trumpets.”

The impact: Kiesling is excited to broaden the types of music that the Sequoia Symphony presents. “Opera is something we haven’t done in five or six years, and it’s high time we bring it back. This is a small opera, intimate, charming, with great music. So it seemed like a great way to dip our toe in the water for our musical community and showcase some of the talent in the program at UCSC.”

The hope: It seems a natural partnership for the Sequoia Symphony and UC Santa Cruz music department to collaborate on a production such as, given Kiesling’s connection. It gives collegiate singers the chance to perform with professional musicians, and it gives the orchestra an instant opera infrastructure. Could it become an annual event? “We hope so,” Kiesling says. “It’s tricky to bring a group of students down here to do it. That’s one of the reasons we thought this more intimate show would make a good first step. So we can see how practical it is. Can this be scaled up? We’ll see. We’d certainly love to be able to do it.”

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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