Cavalli La Didone

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Francesco Cavalli
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Cavalli La Didone
WORKS: La Didone
PERFORMER: Anna Bonitatibus, Kresimir Spicerm Xavier Sabat, Maria Streijffert, Katherine Watson, Tehila Nini Goldsteinm Mariana Reweski, Claire Dedono, Terry Wey, Victor Torres, Valerio Contaldo, Mathias Vidal, Joseph Cornwell, Francisco Javier Borda; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie; dir. Clément Hervieu-Léger (Caen, 2011)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD:1211104; Blu-ray: OABD7106D

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Those who know Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, or Berlioz’s Les Troyens, might be surprised by the tone of Francesco Cavalli’s 1641 opera. It’s unusually dark, especially in the Trojan scenes, which take place in a city being laid to waste by the Greeks, and with Aeneas’s wife, Creusa, killed on stage. But it also ends happily, with Dido accepting neighbouring King Iarbas’s hand in marriage following Aeneas’s departure. This lieto fine is too much for some: Thomas Hengelbrock’s Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CD recording jettisons it.

In this 2011 production from Caen, director Clément Hervieu-Léger and his performers mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus and countertenor Xavier Sabata make something moving of it; Dido is near to death when Iarbas’s loyalty and friendship bring her back from the brink.

It’s a fascinating piece. Cavalli treats Giovanni Busenello’s libretto with dignity in a responsive setting that comprises flexible arioso-like recitative interspersed with short expressive arias. So, too, does Hervieu-Léger, capturing its complex narrative and emotional interactions with flair.

There are strong individual performances, too, from Kresimir Spicer’s thoughtful Aeneas, Maria Streijffert’s distraught Hecuba and Claire Debono’s witty, seductive Venus; there are no weak links in the cast, who impress as a real ensemble of actors.

William Christie uses a slightly larger instrumental group than Venetian commercial theatres regularly had at their disposal, but, as always, Les Arts Florissants perform with enormous style.

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George Hall