English theatre at the time of the Restoration loved large-scale stage spectaculars, the so-called semi-operas. These consisted not just of singing: half of the performance was devoted to spoken dialogue and dance. Henry Purcell composed several such works. The text of The Fairy Queen presents a variation on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in which the musical masques included in it relate to the action, but function as a kind of allegorical or humorous commentary. The Fairy Queen contains much of Purcell's finest music, melancholy love plaints, satirical numbers and sophisticated, colourful instrumental passages. The success of the work, first performed in 1692 at the Dorset Garden Theatre in London, was enormous. Following the composer's early death, his entire oeuvre was forgotten; the score of The Fairy Queen was lost and was not rediscovered until the early 20th century. Since the revival of interest in music of the Baroque era, The Fairy Queen has also enjoyed greater attention.
A night in a fantastical, magical place far away from reality changes the lives of several pairs of lovers: in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander are plunged into emotional chaos by the spells cast by the sprite Puck; even Titania and Oberon, the ruling couple in the realm of the fairies, are not immune to the magical events. When dawn breaks, all these characters have undergone a journey through their subconscious and their secret yearnings which has left them altered. Despite all the madness, or perhaps because of it, their emotions have become ordered and they can begin a new life full of hope. In Shakespeare, the fantastical place is a wood, but his play is also a metaphor for the theatre itself: during a performance, audience and actors alike experience emotional turmoil and enchantments and it may also be that their consciousness and their lives are changed. The journey to a fantasy world influences reality: where does theatre begin, where does it end? "All the word’s a stage."