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Dido and Aeneas 2013Frankfurt Opera

Read more about the opera Dido and Aeneas

Oper Frankfurt's 2013 double bill united two one-act operas separated by more than two hundred years of musical history. In the event, these stagings of Dido and Aeneas and Duke Bluebeard's Castle shared a high standard of musical performance - for the Bartók, exceptionally so - with a strongly imposed production and design concept, which, in the Purcell at least, was sometimes anti-musical.

The appearance was simple. Because the revolve required for the Bartók took up the entire stage area, indeed rather more than that, Dido was performed in front of a drop curtain. A single, solid-backed bench stretched the width of the stage, for characters to sit, stand or perch on. When the chorus members were not required, they moved down to the orchestra, which, in true baroque fashion, was not in a sunken pit, but arranged at stalls level. Sightlines from upper reaches of the house may have been a problem.

Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is a poignant masterpiece of early English opera that features some of the composer's most heartfelt music. While it is one of the most popular of all operas in Britain, it must still be accounted a rarity, indeed a curiosity, for audiences in Germany. The band played extremely well throughout, producing many novel touches, some of which worked, some didn't. The dance sequences were delivered in a style we now associate with French music - Lully and Charpentier, even the later Rameau. The rhythms were tightly sprung, with much emphasis on tambourines and other percussion. There was tremendous contrast, sometimes uncomfortable, between very slow and very fast passages, but the only serious problem, musically, resulted from the long pauses introduced.

The witches undoubtedly enjoy their evil-doing, but they are evil none the less, and to play them so relentlessly for laughs undermined the effectiveness of the drama. To have the Sorceress and her two accomplices performed by men (three counter-tenors) worked extremely well, apart from the occasional problem of balance between them. The same tenor who performed the 'trusty elf, in form of Mercury himself' also sang the cheery Trojan Sailor, who was therefore evidently another product of the Sorceress.

The singing generally reached a very high standard - good sopranos for Belinda and Second Woman, an excellent baritone as Aeneas and, in the lead, the lovely Irish mezzo Paula Murrihy. Her delivery of the lament was a quite superb piece of singing. From what we could hear of it, the performance of the marvellous chorus that followed was just as good was largely lost in the staging. In what was intended as a 'bright idea', Dido did not kill herself but continued to sit upright, emitting sobs and emoting in ways that undercut the intensely moving lament composed by Purcell. 

Performance DatesDido and Aeneas 2013

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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

24 Aug, 19.15 25 Aug, 19.15

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