Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Lorraine Hunt, Lisa Saffer, Donna Deam, Ellen Rabiner, Christine Brandes, Ruth Rainero, Paul Elliott, Michael DeanChoir of Clare College, Cambridge/Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
Do we really need another Dido? Does the opera offer very much scope for radically new insights? Or do we even have an exceptionally fine cast and conductor to justify a more conventional approach? Its production excesses excepted, Christopher Hogwood’s recent L’Oiseau-Lyre account, with Catherine Bott’s impassioned but perfectly scaled Dido and John Mark Ainsley’s toughly tender Aeneas, was vindicated by its vivid orchestral playing and successful reconciliation of the music’s artifice with the drama’s emotional extremes.


Lorraine Hunt on this uneven new recording is certainly the vocal and dramatic equal of Bott: her voice is rich and flexible yet pure and well focused, and she rises to the interpretative demands of the Lament without compromising the intimacy of the opera as a whole. There is also fine though less individual singing from Lisa Saffer and Donna Deam as Dido’s two attendants and Christine Brandes in the tiny role of the Spirit, as well as a taut if roughly played account of the score from Nicholas McGegan and his Philharmonia Baroque Ensemble.


Yet one can’t escape the feeling that here is just another ‘product’ without a genuine artistic imperative: there’s little of the dramatic cut and thrust of a stage production (such as can be heard in McGegan’s Handel recordings, where Hunt is even more involved), despite the clichéd use of silly voices for the witches and the intermittently Cornish (?) accents of the sailors. Perhaps it’s time to lay Dido back in earth, at least for the duration of Purcell’s tercentenary next year. Antony Bye