Dido and Aeneas

Reviewer's rating

Another clever aspect of this evening was the timing of the double bill. The first half was played in daylight and that helped suggest, even with the visual update, the kind of bucolic backdrop to the tale that made Acis and Galatea a peak for the genre of pastoral opera in England in its day. The tale is ultimately poignant and even tragic, but the opera is emblematic of courtly entertainments meant to portray the simplicity of rural life to the ultra-sophisticated and powerful. The sense of satire and even parody were communicated well, and the tale of the central characters was both captivating and moving.

The tragic and more complex tale of Dido and Aeneas was played out later in the evening, as darkness drew in and then mainly in night-time. The dramatic use of burning brands and a fire at the centre of the stage throughout much of the action helped create the foreboding atmosphere of love thwarted by the fates, and the darkness and evil represented by the witches. Dido was sung with dramatic and vocal beauty by Bernadette Johns whose final lament and suicide had all the pathos it required. Anna Cavaliero was a vivid, positive presence as Belinda and the wicked Polymphemus from Acis and Galatea turned up in this opera as a solid Aeneas. Thando Mjandana reappeared as a sailor whose singing and surprising dancing brought a huge outburst of applause from the captivated audience. The witches of Eleanor Sanderson-Nash and Shakira Tsindos, the spirit of Michael Bell and the Sorcerer of Kieran Rayner all made strong impressions as well.

As earlier in the evening, the music was played with a real understanding of Baroque style and the drama was both moving and sinister. This was an evening of both musical and dramatic pleasures presented by a young, attractive and utterly professional group of performers. This double bill gave us strong theatre in which all the elements of the score, the design, the text and the performances worked together for full suspension of disbelief, musical delight and memorable entertainment.