A Dido That Ended in Style


 Purcell: Monica Whicher, Jacqueline Woodley, Danielle Reutter-Harrah, Pascal Beaudin (sopranos), Reginald L. Mobley (alto), Charles Daniels (tenor), Sumner Thompson (baritone); EMV Festival Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, Alexander Weimann (conductor), Chan Centre, Vancouver, 30.7.2015.

Purcell: Come Ye Sons of Art
Dido and Aeneas

Purcell’s much loved masterpiece has been an infrequent visitor to Vancouver. To put things in sharp relief, the only performance that resonates in my memory dates all the way back to 1973, when the (then) Department of Communications at Simon Fraser University put on a full-stage production, directed by John Juliani with Phyllis Mailing as a compelling Dido – one of the boldest artistic projects ever realized by that university.  Accordingly, one should be especially grateful for this current performance, the centerpiece of Early Music Vancouver’s 2015 Summer Festival.  Music director Alexander Weimann has conducted both King Arthur and The Fairy Queen with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in previous years, so he is hardly a stranger to Purcell’s music.  In fact, he has just constructed a new performing edition of Dido and Aeneas.  This concert performance was authentic in the sense that the low pitch (392), and the chorus of a dozen singers employed (secondary singers also being part of the chorus), would have been standard in the composer’s time.  As well, the ornamentation was revised.  The only questionable feature was performing the score ‘one in a part’.  This has been tried before under the name of historically-informed practice but using a full Baroque orchestra is likely more accurate.

Maestro Weimann’s approach to works of this period has always been extremely conscientious and rhythmically astute, placing emphasis on establishing structural cohesion and resiliency of line.  The finest feature of this performance was the intensity and concentration established in the work’s later parts.  At the same time, I thought that the musical development early on tended to be slightly rigid and expressively restrained.  The arresting opening chords of the overture – stating the seriousness of the drama and exposing Purcell’s wonderful strain of melancholy – were presented in a largely matter-of-fact way, at a fast tempo, moving into the string staccatos and bustle almost without hesitation.  Jaqueline Woodley’s Belinda had a certain charm and effervescence, but she often seemed in a hurry, failing to give her phrases time to settle naturally.  Monica Whicher’s Dido was appropriately regal in style, poised in articulation, but a trace self-effacing. Sumner Thompson’s Aeneas started as more roughhewn than commanding, but dug in emotionally as things moved on.  Overall, the proceedings seemed light on dramatic profile and I often felt the need for sharper expression in the singing — and from the Chorus too — if only to set up the ‘theatre’ of the first scene of Act Two.

The hijinks that begin the next act were certainly not underplayed, and the entire ensemble seemed freer dramatically. There was a lot of energy here, and Danielle Reuter-Harrah’s Sorceress was a delight, interacting with the witches in a manner born.  The secondary soloists were very fine as a whole, though perhaps the extent of posturing was excessive for a concert performance.  Everything improved again as we moved through the closing scene of Act II, almost as if it became clear exactly what could be achieved within the smaller scale of this performance.  There was greater sophistication in the dynamics of the Chorus, their integration with the instrumentalists was more crystalline, and there was more intimacy in feeling.  The ‘one in a part’ configuration became more interesting, exposing vividly raw textures and rustic accents within the relatively sparse overall fabric.  Adding to this at the end was Reginald L Mobley’s tender, beguiling, and otherworldly rendering of Spirit.

The only item in Act III that I found questionable was the vivid theatrics of Charles Daniels’ Drunken Sailor.  This a short act, and while I would be the first to appreciate Purcell’s art in juxtaposing tragedy with comic interludes, I thought it drew too much attention to itself.  Otherwise, the musical development was very successful, finding intensity, repose and expressive space in equal measure.  The style was still tightly drawn, but full of insight, and its combination of stark voicings and rustic dance rhythms, drawn together with a slow burning intensity, actually hinted at a more ‘ancient’ feeling than usual.  I am not sure that all the singing matched this spirit but Dido’s great Lament — stoic, distilled and wonderfully concentrated in Monica Whicher’s hands — turned out perfectly.  The closing Chorus ushered in a lovely stillness and floated off almost in a timeless way.  Presented this way, Dido and Aeneas really did feel like a timeless tragedy, and one transpiring outside of this world.

The opening Come Ye Sons of Art provided an appealing appetizer to Dido, and featured some fine singing from the above soloists.   Overall, I found it enjoyable but somewhat on the sober side, the work’s full joy and delight not always springing forth.  Some instrumental inaccuracies and choral imbalances may have had something to do with this.


Geoffrey Newman



Previously published in a slightly altered form on http://vanclassicalmusic.com






Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H