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Purcell: Dido & Aeneas / Christie, Les Arts Florissants

Purcell / Ernman / Les Arts Florissants / Christie
Release Date: 01/12/2010 
Label:  Fra Musica   Catalog #: 1  
Composer:  Henry Purcell
Performer:  Ana QuintansHilary SummersLina MarkebyCeline Ricci,   ... 
Conductor:  William Christie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PURCELL Dido and Aeneas & William Christie, cond; Malena Ernman ( Dido ); Christopher Maltman ( Aeneas ); Judith van Wanroij ( Belinda ); Hilary Summers ( Sorceress ); Lina Markeby ( Second Woman ); Céline Ricci ( First Witch Read more class="ARIAL12">); Ana Quintans ( Second Witch ); Marc Mauillon ( Spirit ); Damian Whiteley ( Sailor ); Fiona Shaw ( Prolog ); Les Arts Florissants (period instruments) OPÉRA COMIQUE (DVD: 66:00)

& Interview with William Christie and Deborah Warner

When going to the opera, nothing of course beats a live performance in a house, but perhaps the next best thing would be a good DVD that is more of a film than an attempt to position a camera out in the audience and go to it. This latest release from FRA Musica’s Opéra Comique label is a made-for-screen adaptation by stage director Deborah Warner and François Roussillon of Netherlands Opera’s Viennese festival production. If that is a mouthful, then one ought to realize the collaborative efforts that draw a fine line between the two venues, stage and screen, that result in a very nice show that one can watch in the comfort of his own home. I am, of course, digressing, but this adaptation of Purcell’s much-performed girls’ school piece from 1689 comes off well in this DVD version, with sets that are flexible but not intrusive, a host of extras (including schoolkids traipsing all over the set), and a performance with the rigor and finesse of William Christie’s justly famed band and choir. Is it modern dress? Yes. Is it “period” dress? Yes. The blend of both worlds, however, is not disturbing in the slightest. It is the work that counts, and all of the peripherals, sets, costumes, action, and music come together in a nice little package to provide an hour’s entertainment.

Of course, the prologue inserted has nothing at all to do with Purcell, since the original music has been lost. Instead, film actress Fiona Shaw (of Harry Potter fame) indulges in a cobbled-together text from Ovid, Eliot, and Yeats, interspersing them within Tate’s original words. It is entertaining, though there is a momentary qualm as Shaw emerges from the bead curtain in jeans and what looks like a tank top/camisole ensemble. One might get the impression that this is yet another modern dress staging, but when the main cast members arrive, they are in ladies’ dresses appropriate to the mid Baroque. The three acts then follow in rapid succession, and one is quite absorbed into the opera without realizing that there are dramatic gaps of significant proportion.

Malena Ernman’s throaty mezzo in the role of Dido gives her a stolid and dignified presence. She is appropriately chary of Aeneas, performed with a resonant bass by Christopher Maltman, and when she succumbs, there is a hint of tragedy behind her momentary joy. When Aeneas spurns her, she launches into her famed lament with ease and grace, not milking it as many performers are wont to do. My only concern is her wide vibrato, which gives her role a more mature and romantic tinge. The voices of Judith van Wanroij and Lina Markeby as her ladies-in-waiting blend nicely, although the former has a light and cheerful “Shake the Cloud” that would persuade anyone to let loose. The campy witches, Tate’s knock-off of Macbeth, are played with a sort of monomaniacal glee by Hilary Summers, Céline Ricci, and Ana Quintans, their voices and cackling blending and bouncing off one another in their mock spells. They are more ladies of the night than demonic, and their fun is infectious. William Christie has done this work quite often over the course of his long career, so he knows how to keep the tempos brisk and flowing. It is a romp, and probably as great a way to while away an hour on opera as one can find. My only regret is that I was unable to get the dialogue between Christie and Warner to play, so I missed their discussion of their vision for this film. You may not need or want another Dido , but this will certainly be worth adding to your collection.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer


Bonus: Interviews with William Christie and stage director Deborah Warner.
Region: All
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Works on This Recording

Dido and Aeneas, Z 626 by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Ana Quintans (Soprano), Hilary Summers (Alto), Lina Markeby (Mezzo Soprano),
Celine Ricci (Soprano), Malena Ernman (Mezzo Soprano), Judith Van Wanrou (Soprano),
Christopher Maltman (Baritone), Damian Whiteley (Bass)
Conductor:  William Christie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1689; England 

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