During the course of one night, chaos breaks out among various pairs of lovers in the realm of Titania and Oberon, the king and queen of the fairies who have fallen out with one another. In the general air of abandon, the concealing masks are removed. Not until daylight has returned can the couples recognise each other again and it seems as if the events of the night were nothing but a dream.
In his semi-opera, Henry Purcell added song and dance to the spoken dialogues, an English peculiarity in the 17th century that arose from the combining of Elizabethan drama and the court masque with its lavish costumes and décor. The Fairy Queen is an arrangement of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream by an anonymous librettist whose textbook appeared in spring 1692 in London and the performance of which the public was eager to see, because in the prologue the speaker claims that this work will put all of Purcell’s previous successes well and truly in the shade. But it did not.
The Fairy Queen was never performed again in its original form and following Purcell’s untimely death in 1695 the score was believed lost. It was not until the first years of the 20th century that an almost complete score, parts of which were handwritten by the composer, came to light and made Purcell’s masterpiece widely known.