4 July 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Delightful and very moving
'Dido and Aeneas' is Purcell's most best-known opera and one of his best-known overall works, and for good reason.
In performance, Act 1 can be potentially static (speaking from experience when I was in the chorus for the conservatoire's 2013 Opera Scenes production, where we performed the whole of Act 1 with very static staging, conceived at practically last minute when the 'Eugene Onegin' and 'Cosi Fan Tutte' dominated the rehearsal period and it showed in the performance) and the portrayal of the Sorceress and witches can be problematic.
This said, 'Dido and Aeneas' is a really lovely opera with an interesting story when executed well and wonderful music from Purcell, the most famous part being Dido's justifiably celebrated death aria "When I am Laid in Earth" which is one of the most beautiful and poignant arias ever written.
This production is a delight and one of the best performances of the opera available. It is very interesting visually, with a combination of 17th century with present day production values that may sound jarring but actually is attractive and creative. Deborah Warner directs thoughtfully and innovatively, making for one of the better-directed productions on DVD, never losing grasp of the story and putting the opera and Purcell first. The first act is not static, the children add a lot and provide humour and pathos, Dido and Aeneas' relationship is beautifully realised with Christopher Maltman and Malena Ernmann making for a very affecting couple and the Sorceress and witches scene is a hoot. "When I am Laid in Earth" had me bawling too.
On a musical level, it couldn't be better. The orchestra play ravishingly, providing plenty of energy, emotional depth and nuance, and once again showing a knack for authenticity and refinement. The chorus act with involvement and individuality and sing beautifully, while William Christie's conducting is accommodating and lets the music breathe while never losing momentum but also alert and brings life to the drama without losing the intimacy or rushing.
Christopher Maltman makes the most of the small role of Aeneas, providing a warm voice and an authoritative presence on stage. Malena Ernmann is not a Dido to forget, with impeccable breath control and legato, her "Ah Belinda" and especially "When I am Laid in Earth" will have you reaching for tissues. The role of Belinda also has beautiful music, and Judith van Wanroij sings with bright tone and flexibility and brings charm to the role. Hilary Summers is camper than most Sorceresses, but it works. The witches also bring humour, delightful irony and a sinister air, their scene is a lot of fun but suitably eerie as well.
All in all, delightful and very moving production. Highly recommended. 10/10 Bethany Cox