Henry Purcell, Dido & Aeneas (Part 3)

July 2, 2009

I checked Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald for a review of opening night. I had to settle instead for their online feature article which focussed on Acis and Galatea and the ABC TV footage in which Yvonne Kenny as Dido mentioned the warmth of her lower vocal register. Interviewed wearing her costume in blue with lots of beaded necklaces, she indeed looked the part and I’m sure she’s bringing to the role a lot of wonderful wordly gravitas. Okay, so I never saw her in that Handel milk bath, but I loved her in the more recent Previn.

Somewhat surprisingly, I found a review with photo in my local community newspaper, The Glebe, by Melissa Lesnie, an avid Pinchgut Opera fan like myself. I am of course ecstatic that the Orchestra of the Antipodes will be playing. I can expect opulent design with subtlety, characterised by costumes with their North African inspiration. Luke Gabbedy is described as slightly stiff as Aeneas, but as I’ve mentioned before it’s easy to somehow overlook him from a musical perspective – apart from the chorus, I think all the attention is on Dido and Belinda. I’m sure I’ll enjoy Taryn Fiebig as Belinda, not just for her singing but for the duality between the youth she represents and the wisdom of someone older in Dido, hinting at how a younger generation might or might not learn from an older one. And isn’t the transfer of learning from one generation to the next emblematic of things operatic at the moment?

Lesnie mentions the flexibility required of the chorus and what I imagine will be their uncompromising, rich enjoyment of the music they have the opportunity of singing here.

What I am looking forward to, as presaged in the review, is Kanen Breen as an “eccentric… Marilyn Manson-esque sorceress”. This may be exactly the off-the-wall take on things one needs to offset the very real human tragedy of the two principals. Lesnie also mentions the ‘precise diction and warmth of tone’ required to bring off the role in order to justly serve the music, though that may refer more to Acis in the after-interval Handel than the Purcell. The photo shows the chorus dressed in pared-down period costume with white fright wigs, seated on raked black sports field seating – I like what looks like a raffish link to the girls of the opera’s first performance.

I know not Acis and Galatea, beyond the exquisite ‘Ruddier than the cherry’. For me the night will be all about the Purcell. I guess with the death of the King of Pop resonating so loudly at the moment, the subject of celebrity acted out in A&G will be as poignant now as the scarifyingly devastating performance of Don Giovanni was during the Pope’s visit to Sydney. I’m always astonished that what I see on the Sydney Opera House stage manages to reflect exactly the world waiting for me beyond Bennelong Point.

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