Christopher Hogwood has found himself a dream cast here, with even the smallest roles taken by big names. There are a couple of surprises along the way, such as the underage First Sailor (sung by a slightly quavery treble) and the cross-dressing Sorceress, here taken by a bass. Still David Thomas cackles and machinates with the best of them, so don't let that put you off.
At under an hour this mini-masterpiece should be in every opera-lover's collection. There are scores of versions available but I tend to favour those with a Dido of really starry vocal quality given that her torments lie at the heart of the opera and all other considerations are secondary: Purcell and his librettist Nathum Tate make little of Aeneas's psychology and the other roles are all supplementary, reflecting upon Dido's plight, even to the extent of some suggesting that the Sorceress is her alter ego.
Performing Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas' is a task that has made conductors very curious - the many and varied recordings and performances of it prove it. The circumstances in which the work was originally performed is somewhat vague, the manner of performing Purcell generally is not very clear, the scores found are varied (no manuscript was ever found) and there are two missing parts - the prologue and probably a ballet or choir section at the end of the second act. I have heard several recordings of the work, however, I feel McGegan has done it in a way which sounds just right, as if this is how ot should have been done. First of all, the choice of basing the performance on a couple of the scores found seems to be appropriate, and in my opinion the right mix was done here. Lorraine Hunt makes a brilliant Dido, she has a very dramatic power mixed with a pure voice and a great sense of the time. Lisa Saffer is the most wonderfull Belinda I have ever heard, singing softly and sweetly and expressing the character very strongly.
A genius with the ability to combine French and Italian influences in an art that transported the English language, Purcell may be William Christie's favourite composer.This production of Dido and Aeneas, directed by Deborah Warner and interpreted by Les Arts Florissants, was overwhelmingly acclaimed when created at the Vienna Festival in 2006 and again when repeated at the Opéra Comique in 2008.This short opera, one of the earliest, is particularly dear to William Christie who has recorded and directed it on several occasions.
Producers of opera certainly wish it, for they turn to Dido all the time, in every sort of production and circumstance. Dido, brief and elementary as it is, is a complete work, even “grand” (as William Christie suggests in this DVD’s supplemental film), in the range of emotions it takes us through, the completeness of the story we are asked to feel, the “Shakespearean” variation (as director Deborah Warner suggests in the same film) between heroic tragedy and madcap humor. Dido repays every sort of effort, from amateur to elitist.. John Yohalem