Special Outdoor Production of The Fairy Queen Celebrates Return of Fully Staged Live Opera at UC Santa Cruz

Spencer Greene as Bottom and Nyla Rizvi as Titania in Henry Purcell’s production of UCSC The Fairy Queena semi-opera based on Shakespeare Dream of a summer night.

Photo credit: Steve DiBartolomeo
Graphic design: Dina Clark

After Two Years of Working Remotely on Opera, UC Santa Cruz’s Music Department Presents Henry Purcell The Fairy Queen in a very special outdoor production to celebrate the return of fully staged live opera to UCSC. For two evenings, May 27 and 28, 2022, the school’s dramatic Quarry Amphitheater becomes the setting for this semi-opera, written as incidental music for William Shakespeare Dream of a summer night.

“It’s an amazing space for this production,” says Lecturer Sheila Willey, who directs UCSC’s unique opera program. “Shakespeare’s play is about people wandering through the woods and being seduced by nature. We’ve never staged a work in the quarry, but the opportunity to use this beautiful location, where the audience and performers would be in the elements in all their glory, was so full of possibilities.

In this version of the work, Purcell’s beautiful vocal and instrumental movements are interspersed with dialogue from Shakespeare’s play. In re-enacting it, Willey wanted to give audiences and performers as complete an experience as possible of Shakespeare’s much-loved characters and ensure that the very large ensemble of 18 principals all had plenty of opportunity to practice both singing and dialogue.

The mostly undergraduate directors will be joined by a 45-person choir in a first collaboration with the University Concert Choir, one of the many ways Willey and his collaborators pulled out all the stops for this elaborate production.

The UCSC undergraduate orchestra students will be joined by a dozen members of the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra of Central Valley, of which Music Director Bruce Kiesling, also conductor of the UCSC University Orchestra, will conduct. Students graduating from the costume design program at the Academy of the Arts at the University of San Francisco spent a full semester transforming their classroom into a costume design and production workshop for The Fairy Queen, taking this longstanding collaboration to new heights. Jessica Carter of Santa Cruz Shakespeare is providing the wig, hair, and makeup design. Lighting design is by Dave Dunning of Legend Theatrical; stage design by Sean Riley of Visible Gravity; and sound design by Brook Nielsen of Live Oak Audio.

“We brought in some very special designers to make this a really unique experience for the students,” says Willey. “We wanted it to feel like a real party. Due to the pandemic, students have been deprived of the opportunity to make art together, which is an important part of being a music student. It seemed important to devote a particular amount of energy and resources to this production.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on May 27 and 28, 2022. Tickets are $15-$32 (free for students under 18 or with student ID) and are available here.

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