OPERA - OTHER COMPOSERS - DIDO
|Continuing its policy of
widening its repertoire, Opera Australia is presenting “Baroque
Masterworks” by coupling Claudio Monteverdi’s cantata, Il
combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, with Henry Purcell’s semi-opera,
Dido and Aeneas.
For the cross-dressed Clorinda, Ali
McGregor lifted her timbre from a husky warrior to a touching frailty in
her dying “I go in peace”. Han Lim’s declamatory manner as
Tancredi was doubly assured by firm articulation.
Narrating the Monteverdi, Angus Wood
possessed a martial bearing absent from his Aeneas. His chromatics and
embellishments, notably the “piercing cry”, were outstanding.
Elsewhere, he was betrayed by a shortness of breath which diminished the
pathos, shaving a final syllable more than twice. Several moments were
neither steady nor well placed.
Deborah Humble as the Queen of Carthage,
Dido, maintained the majesty of her character, as demonstrated in her
declamations. Her opening “Peace and I are strangers grown” was
heartrending, establishing the pure, precise, rich and regal qualities
of her singing. Was it these strengths which deprived her final and
famous lament, “Remember me”, of its power to move audiences to
tears? Humble varied the colours in which she delivered those words as
an imperious injunction but never moved beyond that compass of command
towards a plangent pleading.
Lisa Harper-Brown as her lady in waiting,
Belinda, found that the high register blurred her enunciation and thus
blunted the incisiveness of her advice to embrace love.
The role of sorcerer has been restored to
a baritone, Kanen Breen, who was as peerless dramatically as he was
aurally. The pair of witches, Sally McHugh and Angela Brewer,
added potency to his malignancy. That trio made the whole more
affecting and convincing.
Had choreographer Lucy Guerin paid closer
attention to the changes in the vocal lines she might have established
more variations of pace. Dancers as skilled as Delia Silvan and Byron
Perry could have worked up Guerin’s routines by themselves, as they
proved by their finessing of what little there was.
The pity was that the Purcell had not
been expanded into a complete evening by restoring all seventeen dances
mentioned in the original. That expansion would have given the small
Baroque-style orchestra under Richard Gill even more opportunities to
display their skills and versatility.
Yet again, a director - Patrick Nolan -
has cluttered the front of the narrow opera stage so as to preclude
action. The hunt scene was a non-event and boar’s head risible. Nolan
distracted himself from establishing emotional ambience by on-stage
costume changes which in turn distracted everyone from the conflicting
The chorus delivered everything asked of them. Sad to say, they were called upon to do several inappropriate things. The robust mix of male and adult female voices tilted the vocal balance away from the joyiosity of the betrothal. The sailors’ chorus lacked a cynical edge. The final two choral parts thickened into a Brahms requiem, remote from the girlish choir that Purcell had in mind for this minor masterwork.