ALBUM TITLE: Purcell
WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Vivica Genaux, Ana Quintans, Henk Neven, Marc Mauillon; Choeur Accentus; Le Poème Harmonique/Vincent Dumestre; dir. Cécile Roussat & Julien Lubek
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha 706
Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek’s Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie staging of Dido and Aeneas was crafted to ‘embody physically onstage what appears in the libretto’. The sea is omnipresent, represented in billowing rolls of blue silk, while Cupid is the first deity to appear, drawing back his bow and releasing his arrow as Vincent Dumestre and Le Poème Harmonique launch into the allegro section of Purcell’s Lullyan overture.
Cynics may write this off as another pretty-pretty continental production, a little too in love with movement, spectacle, 17th-century orientalism and handfuls of glitter. The Sorceress (baritone Marc Mauillon) is a cross-dressing cephalopod, while the Witches (Caroline Meng and Lucile Richardot, neither of them reliably in tune) are mermaids. There are sea nymphs too, one doubling on lyra viol, the others engaged in limp choreography. Yet the details serve to illustrate the helplessness of Vivica Genaux’s Dido and Henk Neven’s Aeneas: two lovers brought together then separated by the sea.
Despite a largely Francophone cast, and Genaux’s faint North American accent, the text is brilliantly clear. Ana Quintans’s Belinda and Jenny Daviet’s Second Woman are brightly characterised. Glancing references in Nahum Tate’s libretto are given full weight as portents of doom. Our first glimpse of Aeneas is of him watching Dido unseen, like Acteon. Diana (another acrobat) appears as a polychrome statue in a shrine in Act II, then swings above the doomed lovers, seated on a crescent moon. The chorus sings from the pit, in slightly mannered English. Lute, guitar and harp lead the orchestra, the missing dances drawn from manuscripts by Purcell and Matthew Locke. Dumestre favours slow tempos in the laments, artfully sustained by Genaux. The final image of the dying queen is stunning. Anna Picard