A special outdoor production of The Fairy Queen celebrates the return of fully-staged, live opera at UC Santa Cruz

Spencer Greene as Bottom and Nyla Rizvi as Titania in UCSC’s production of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, a semi-opera based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Photo credit: Steve DiBartolomeo
Graphic design: Dina Clark

After two years of remote opera work, the UC Santa Cruz Music Department presents Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen in a very special outdoor production to celebrate the return of fully-staged, live opera at UCSC. For two evenings May 27 & 28, 2022, the school’s dramatic Quarry Amphitheater becomes the setting for this semi-opera, written as incidental music for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“It’s an incredible space for this production,” says Lecturer Sheila Willey, who heads up UCSC’s unique opera program. “Shakespeare’s play is all about people wandering in the woods and being beguiled by nature. We have never staged a work in the Quarry, but the opportunity to use this gorgeous place, where the audience and the performers would be out in the elements in all their glory, was so full of possibility.”

In this version of the work, Purcell’s beautiful vocal and instrumental movements are interspersed with dialogue from Shakespeare’s play. In piecing it together, Willey wanted to give the audience and the performers as full an experience of Shakespeare’s much loved characters as possible and to ensure that the very large ensemble of 18 principals all had ample opportunities to train in both song and dialogue.

The mostly undergraduate principals will be joined by a 45-person strong chorus in a first time collaboration with the University Concert Choir, just one of the many ways that Willey and her collaborators have pulled out all the stops for this elaborate production.

UCSC orchestral undergraduates will be joined by about a dozen members of the Central Valley’s Sequoia Symphony Orchestra whose Music Director Bruce Kiesling, also Conductor of UCSC’s University Orchestra, will conduct. Graduate students in the Costume Design program at Academy of Arts University of San Francisco have spent a full semester transforming their class into a costume design and production shop for The Fairy Queen, taking this long-time collaboration to new heights. Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Jessica Carter is providing wig, hair, and make up design. Lighting design is by Legend Theatrical’s Dave Dunning; scenic design by Visible Gravity’s Sean Riley; and sound design by Live Oak Audio’s Brook Nielsen. 

“We’ve brought in some very special designers to make this a really unique experience for the students,” says Willey. “We wanted this to feel like a true celebration. Because of the pandemic, the students have been deprived of the opportunity to make art together, which is a huge part of being a music student. It felt important to expend a special amount of energy and resources on this production.”

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