WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Victoria de los Angeles, Peter Glossop, Heather Harper, Patricia Johnson, Elizabeth Robson; Ambrosian Singers, English CO/John Barbirolli
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 65664 2 ADD Reissue
Three highly contrasting views of Purcell’s only true opera. One, Victoria de los Angeles’s famed account with John Barbirolli, is a reissue, though it sounds less dated and less laboured than one of the newer accounts. For all her Romantic swoopings and deliberations, de los Angeles has a wonderfully pure voice; and the rest of the cast – Peter Glossop as Aeneas, Heather Harper as Belinda, and a young Robert Tear as the Sailor – reads like a singers’ Who’s Who of the time. Barbirolli and the ECO show a keenness in the discovery of the Purcellian style that speaks vividly across three decades.
Three decades indeed, but has Maria Ewing, who plays Dido on Collegium Musicum 90’s recording, made in conjunction with a television production, learned anything about Purcellian style in the meantime? Hers is a lofty, remote, rather than distracted heroine, her rhythmic sense seriously compromised by an inability to resist self-indulgence. Richard Hickox, the conductor, seems very much in thrall to her. A pity, because the supporting cast (Rebecca Evans as Belinda, Karl Daymond as Aeneas) is a one.
Which leaves Tafelmusik’s fine account, under Jeanne Lamon, on a Canadian Broadcasting Company disc. Tafelmusik’s playing is ultra-expressive, but their rich-voiced Dido, Jennifer Lane, knows that such expression must be matched by momentum. A fine supporting cast too. Stephen Pettitt