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 passions.

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.