William Christie leads Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in a memorable new Madrid production

SpainSpain Purcell, Dido and Aeneas: Soloists, Les Arts Florissants / William Christie (conductor). Teatros del Canal, Madrid, 21.1.2023. (JMI)

Dancers with Lea Desandre and Renato Dolcini on their columns © P. Lorente

Stage direction and Choreography – Blanca Li
Sets and Costumes – Evi Keller
Lighting – Caty Olive

Dido – Lea Desandre
Aeneas / Sorceress – Renato Dolcini
Belinda – Ana Vieira Leite
First Sorceress – Laura Lodge-CampbellSecond Sorceress / Second Woman – Virginie Thomas
Spirit – Michael Loughlin Smith

This Henry Purcell work was put on in Madrid in 2019 at the Teatro Real, which is also involved in the production of the opera at Teatros del Canal. Dido and Aeneas is the only true opera Purcell composed – the others are more like semi-operas. Every time I hear it, I come to the conclusion that he is one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music, and one can only regret that he does not have a larger catalogue of operas. It is an authentic masterpiece, one that leaves an unforgettable memory with the aficionado when listened to in the proper conditions, which happened on this occasion.

The opera’s premiere was in 1689, and the more that I see it, the more it surprises me. I find it incredible that Henry Purcell could make music so fresh, so inspired, and – why not – so modern before the end of the seventeenth century. It is a pity that the work is seldom performed in Spain.

Lea Desandre © P. Lorente

If, when performed at the Teatro Real, dance (although in an aquatic form) played a great role, now dance is the absolute protagonist of this new staging by Blanca Li, a choreographer by profession and the current director of Teatros del Canal. The orchestra is located on the left of the stage, which leaves a wide space for the dancers. The front part is covered with water to facilitate the dancers’ movements.

The main singers are practically immobile, placed on columns which are moved by extras. For me, this makes the plot less dramatic as those in leading roles respond almost entirely to the dancers, which is somewhat excessive.

The musical interpretation was by William Christie and his Arts Florissants, and they proved again that they have practically no rival in this type of Baroque and pre-Baroque opera. Christie conducted from the harpsichord, and we could really enjoy his absolutely wonderful reading.

Queen Dido was sung by mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre, whom I was seeing for the first time. She is closely linked to Les Arts Florissants and gave an outstanding vocal performance, but it is a pity that we did not get to watch her move about the stage.

Baritone Renato Dolcini as Aeneas has a strong voice and was good in the role. He doubled as the Sorceress, which was not wholly convincing. The importance of the scene was overlooked – there is not even a change of costumes from Aeneas to the Sorceress.

Soprano Ana Vieira Leite has an attractive voice and was a good Belinda. The rest of the characters were correctly interpreted.

Jose M. Irurzun

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