Notes and Editorial Reviews
An original, intense and highly durable reading of the first great English opera
Here is as fine a Dido and Aeneas as we have had for many a year. There’s not a weak link in the cast, as might be predicted with singers of the quality of Sarah Connolly’s utterly obsessed Dido, Gerald Finley’s richly sung (with just the right touch of arrogance) Aeneas and Patricia Bardon’s knowing Sorceress.
-- Gramophone [2/2009]
"The performance is a worthy rival for the 2004 recording by Emmanuelle HaIm's Concert d'Astree (Virgin), with Susan Graham and Ian Bostridge. Sarah Connolly's Dido is passionate, pointedly dramatic and richly
ornamented, and she has both a solid Aeneas in Gerald Finley and a lively, conspiratorial Belinda in Lucy Crowe. Other nice touches include Patricia Bardon's Sorceress, sung with a regal quality that mirrors Ms. Connolly's Dido. And the ensemble, with a continuo group heavy on guitars and theorbos, produces a vivid, unusually strummy sound."
-- Allan Kozinn, New York Times [4/5/2009]
Dido and Aeneas
Elizabeth Kenny, cond; Steven Devine, cond; Sarah Connolly (
); Gerald Finley (
); Lucy Crowe (
); Patricia Bardon (
); William Purefoy (
); Sarah Tynan (
); John Mark Ainsley (
); Carys Lane (
); Rebecca Outram (
); Age of Enlightenment O & Ch (period instruments)
Text and Translation)
This recording was issued in part to memorialize the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth, and it’s not your standard
Dido and Aeneas
, either. But what is a standard for this opera? Baroque opera is hardly sacrosanct. Its composers frequently compiled them from a number of sources—not always their own prior works, either—and made adjustments as circumstances and the promise of future performances warranted. Vocal ranges for the same roles vary in old extant scores: the Sorceress in Purcell’s opera, for example, traditionally allocated to a mezzo, was sung by a bass in an important 1700 revival. Orchestras of different sizes and composition were employed; several dances and a prologue variously added, and removed. Complicating matters is the fact that this opera fell out of favor for many years, resurfacing a century ago with portions of its content lost, most notably an allegorical prologue where Phoebus steps in to receive a surrogate’s praise for the monarch of the day. Attempting to resolve the sudden, dramatic shifts with other music makes sense in a Baroque spirit, rather than anachronistically “authentic” letter-of-the-law way.
So this recording includes an extended, reworked “Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment,” contrived by Sasha Waltz and Attilio Cremonesi to incorporate an air from
, and also used in their fascinating, partially aquatic version of the opera that was filmed (Arthaus Musik 101 311). A pathos-laden Almand from Purcell’s G-Minor Harpsichord Suite—with phrases that foreshadow the famous Lament—provides a suitable transition between the witches and the final confrontation of the ill-fated lovers. A couple of stylistically appropriate dances are improvised, based on a chaconne by Francesco Corbetta (Charles II’s court guitarist) and a passacaille by Robert de Visée (Louis XIV’s guitarist). Finally, musicologist Bruce Wood’s setting of the lost chorus “Then since our charms have sped” (which has surfaced in some previous recordings) is applied, and leads into a dance from the composer’s
that replaces the missing “Groves’s Dance.”
Sarah Connolly does the honors as Dido, and it is an excellent assumption. I have for several years regarded her as one of today’s finest opera singers, marrying an excellent lyric coloratura mezzo to a first-rate musical mind. Her coloristic and interpretative abilities are certainly on display in “Ah! Belinda,” while her ability to ornament creatively is only one of the pleasures she offers us in the Lament. Her sensuous beauty of tone in the latter probably owes much to close miking, because Connolly has never possessed an opulent voice, but it is nonetheless welcome.
Gerald Finley is fully her equal; not just in quality of voice, but in the sense of providing Aeneas with some dignity. (This isn’t his first foray into the role on recordings. He played Aeneas under René Jacobs back in 2000, on Harmonia Mundi 901683, an excellent version of the opera.) Traditionally the role is regarded as something of a stick and a wimp, but Finley does much with the bit of text he’s allotted by Nahum Tate. “Aeneas has no fate but you!” is convincingly ardent, while his lines after receiving the falsified godly decree sending him away are fraught with regret. “Let Jove say what he please, I’ll stay!” isn’t petulant, for once, but heroic.
Patricia Bardon, who was such a fine Cornelia in Handel’s
(Opus Arte 950), plays one of the most richly resonant Sorceresses I’ve heard. She is vividly theatrical in her use of language as well, and that goes hand in hand with excellent enunciation. The Belinda of Lucy Crowe is notable for its brightness of timbre and quick vibrato, making a good contrast with Connolly. “Thanks to these lonesome vales” isn’t well enunciated, as much of her control of color derives from the manipulation of vowels (contrast this with Connolly, who always uses consonants to advantage), but her beautiful tone goes hand in hand with Purcell’s haunting melody.
The commemorative nature of this performance, its visibility, and the prominence of its leads perhaps account for the standout names assigned to smaller roles. Sarah Tynan, a superb Constance in the English-language version of Poulenc’s
, is the Second Woman. John Mark Ainsley, a lyric tenor of great interpretative insight, gets the single air of the Sailor. William Purefoy, one of the best of the current crop of countertenors, manages the transition between his registers without seams, giving us an eerie Spirit. Only Carys Lane’s curiously feeble soprano sounds out of place, while Rebecca Outram is competent in her bit part as the Second Witch.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment proudly proclaims itself free of any single resident conductor, though one is used on an individual concert basis. Here, the duties of music director are jointly undertaken by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and harpsichordist Steven Devine. (Kenny also provides strong liner notes.) Regardless of whoever was involved in the decisions regarding tempo, balance, dynamics, etc., this is a sensitive, finely paced reading. It never rushes its soloists and remains flexible in recitative. Phrasing is always supple.
The engineering is close, but avoids over resonance. Despite the presence of many other fine recordings of
—especially the Jacobs remarked upon above, and Haïm’s on Virgin 5456052 featuring the delectable Susan Graham—this one immediately joins the top rank.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Dido and Aeneas, Z 626 by Henry Purcell
Lucy Crowe (Soprano),
Sarah Connolly (Mezzo Soprano),
Rebecca Outram (Soprano),
Patricia Bardon (Mezzo Soprano),
William Purefoy (Countertenor),
Gerald Finley (Baritone),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor),
Carys Lane (Soprano),
Sarah Tynan (Soprano)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,
Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Written: 1689; England
Length: 69 Minutes 46 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Dido and Aeneas: Overture
Dido and Aeneas: Act I: "Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment"
Dido and Aeneas: Act I: "Fear no danger to ensue"
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