LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Purcell
WORKS: Purcell: Dido and Aeneas; Eccles & Finger: The Love of Mars and Venus
PERFORMER: Raffaella Milanesi, Richard Helm, Stefanie True, Iason Marmaras, Michela Antenucci, Anna Bessi; Coro Costanzo Porta; La Risonanza/Fabio Bonizzoni
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72737
Dido and Aeneas might be the first truly great opera in English but the backstory of its early performance history is fraught with speculation. Fabio Bonizzoni has taken the bold decision to model La Risonanza’s live recording on a 1704 production when it was presented – alongside John Eccles’s and Gottfried Finger’s Masque The Love of Mars and Venus – as an ‘afterpiece’ to a farce ‘call’d The Anatomist, or The Sham Doctor’. The role of the Sorceress is thus assigned to a bass; that of the Sailor to a soprano; and the duet ‘Fear no danger’ is downsized to solo proportions.
Bolder still, Bonizzoni’s team tries ‘original pronunciation’ for size, which opens up a can of worms rendered somewhat academic given that none of the cast – with the exception of Canadian soprano Stefanie True’s bright-toned Belinda – has English as a first language. Austrian baritone Richard Helm slaloms manfully over the vowels of Aeneas’s Act II profession of divided loyalties, and its impassioned volatility is further constrained by an unmodulated evenness of emotional temperature. It’s a charge that could also be levelled against Raffaella Milanesi’s undeniably imperious Dido, whose anguished pleading in the celebrated Lament doesn’t quite feel internalised and authentic.
After a genteel start Iason Marmaras’s Sorceress turns splendidly spiteful, but overall this is a Dido that sounds forged in the concert hall rather than the theatre. The real star is the instrumental playing (how the dances swing!); and with less at stake, warmly stylish, The Love of Mars and Venus proves a delightful postscript.