Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Dynamic
WORKS: Didon
PERFORMER: Sibongile Mngoma, Daniel Galvez-Vallejo, Davide Damiani, Teresa di Bari, Angelica Girardi; Petruzzelli Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Arnold Bosman
‘Confidently expected to be another failure,’ as the Viking Opera Guide puts it, Piccinni’s portentous Dido-and-Aeneas opera seria is now held to be the finest of his 110-odd stage works, most of which are in the Neapolitan buffa tradition. For after its premiere in Fontainebleau in 1783, it proved so popular in Paris, where the composer’s supporters famously feuded with Gluck’s, that it remained in the repertoire for 40 years.


Based on performances in the composer’s birthplace, Bari, this recording makes a powerful case for the work as a tautly constructed, dramatically intense, melodically rich, even influential piece. (It is not, incidentally, the first recording as is claimed, since there exists another live version made in Naples in 1970 and released on Arkadia.) Elements call to mind Mozart, not least in the eerie use of trombones to support the appearance of a bass ghost character (Aeneas’s father) – and in the Carthaginian queen’s determined aria ‘Ni l’amante, ni la reine’, where she pledges never to submit to Iarbas’s advances and which begins with the same melodic figure as ‘Come scoglio’ in Così.


Its success is largely thanks to the Soweto-born soprano Sibongile Mngoma – a worthy successor to the imperious Gabriella Tucci on the Naples version – who brings nobility, ardour, tragedy and profound lyrical beauty to the central role, even if she is not always intelligible. Unfortunately, her suitors aren’t in the same class, though the tenor Daniel Galvez-Vallejo’s Aeneas is at least dramatically convincing, even if his voice is taxed by the embellishments, not to mention the high tessitura, that the role demands. The sound, however, is thin and marred by the persistently intrusive thudding of scenery and supernumeraries. Even so, it’s preferable to the truly awful, scratchy interference on the rival set. Claire Wrathall