Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas (Part 1 of 4)

June 2, 2009

Opera Australia will be mounting a production of D&A in their forthcoming Winter Season. Yvonne Kenny is certainly a drawcard, as is conductor Antony Walker. I’m assuming a smallish orchestra with the same dramatic theorbo among the basso continuo instruments as used in previous Handel productions. I guess there might be a combination of basse de violon and bass viol, alongside baroque cello, if we’re particularly lucky, for the requisite word-painting. A bass viol for those aspects of the production that look back to the earlier music abandoned with the rise of Charles II and his French influences; ‘cello to reinforce those aspects that are more Italian in style. After interval will be Handel’s Acis and Galatea, so the viol will have bowed out for that one.

I’m struck by the fact that no instrumentation is specified in the original score and that producers and directors have had fun over the years mixing and matching the voice types. While the instrumentation might flex back and forth between French and Italian influences, I’m guessing the choral numbers and dance routines will reinforce any Englishness. Any Baroque hand-movements among the members of the chorus?

I can’t imagine the entire orchestra going on to the small stage, with the singers/dancers out the front, oratorio-style. Though obviously some European opera productions have gone down this path. Will there by the exotic lighting of previous Handel productions?

How about the contrast between the witches and the main roles? Will the witches be campy panto dames, or have more of a schoolgirl menace about them, a nod in the direction of one of the first performances? Will there be any room for any arresting aural ‘vice’ as espoused by the likes of Il Giardino Armonico?

Looking forward to it, regardless of whether the viol gets a guernsey or not. Having sung in the chorus of a school production at aged 15, with visiting adults in the main roles, I moved on to the Victoria de Los Angeles recording in the 1970s. Later on, a very moving chamber opera/concert performance by faculty at the Amherst Early Music Festival in 1993. As a viol player, the context includes the viol consorts and the solo songs with viol or harpsichord accompaniment. I’ll re-visit the 1986 William Christie recording, as well as the 1984 Harnoncourt recording.


One Response to “Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas (Part 1 of 4)”

  1. Sarah Says:

    If you’re after a foretaste of the Dido & Aeneas, there are some photos from the 2004 season here:

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