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CD Review

Henry Purcell

Dido and Aeneas

  • Susan Graham (Dido)
  • Ian Bostridge (Aeneas)
  • Camilla Tilling (Belinda)
  • Cécile de Boever (Second Woman)
  • Felicity Palmer (Sorceress)
  • David Daniels (Spirit)
  • Paul Agnew (A Sailor)
European Voices
Le Concert d'Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
Virgin Veritas 545605-2 DDD 52:54
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Are there any bad recordings of Dido and Aeneas ? I've yet to hear one. Each puts its own "spin" on Purcell's short opera, and choosing among them, while enjoyable, is difficult.

It might be an exaggeration to say that this new Dido has one foot in England and the other in France, but it is not far from the truth. The conductor and the instrumentalists establish a French style in the overture. Extremes of tempo, exaggerated dotted rhythms, the instrumental timbres, and an abundance of rolled chords and embellishments evoke spectacles staged at Versailles in the late 1600s. The theorbo, lute, and guitar are particularly prominent. The soloists and chorus, on the other hand, are native English-speakers, and even a few Americans are thrown into the mix. It's not that the "pit" and the "stage" are out of sync, it's just that the stylistic contrast between the two is greater than what I am used to. As with most recordings, there are mannered moments. To me, the oddest was the drawing out of "mar" in the First and Second Witches's "to mar their hunting sport."

Susan Graham sings gorgeously, but she seems less interested in portraying Dido's royalty than she is in the character's lovesickness, a quality with which even modern women can identify. Indeed, from her pained "Ah! Belinda" at the outset, she sounds like a woman with an itch that no man will ever scratch to her satisfaction. If you want to a more queenly Dido, Janet Baker and others remain preferable. As Belinda, Camilla Tilling is a bright foil to the darker-toned Graham, and she combines well with the Second Woman. Felicity Palmer is a threatening Sorceress, yet not a camp figure as on some recordings. Among the men, Bostridge, a tenor Aeneas, is not especially heroic, but he sounds younger and more romantic than most of his counterparts. David Daniels as the Spirit is an inspired piece of luxury casting, and kudos also to Paul Agnew for his characterful cockney Sailor. The chorus of fourteen is large enough, except in the second act's Echo Dance. They are allowed a bit of cackling in this act, but not enough to call in the Camp Police.

The CD is short. Still, Virgin has packaged it lavishly, with the jewel box and a libretto housed in a cardboard outer box. The witches' thunder will menace your house pets; the engineering is impressively lifelike.

Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle