Monday 4 April 2005

Dido and some

To the Barbican on Saturday for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's concert. Under Richard Egarr they did an all Purcell programme, The Masque in Diocletian and Dido and Aeneas, the latter with Christopher Maltman and Alice Coote in the title roles.

Diocletian was brilliant, with an fine array of soloists including Maltman, Carolyn Sampson and Andrew Tortise. Tortise is an tenor/haut-contre to watch, he was recently seen here to great effectwith William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. The programme notes gave us the words but no indication of the, admittedly rudimentary, plot and scene settings for the Masque; Purcell's arias, ensembles and choruses became a set of charming objets trouvees, still with singing as lovely as this, who cares.

In Dido, Egarr was obviously making some gestures in the direction of restoring the opera to its presumed more complete, aristocratic form. Michael Burden's programme note was a model of clarity when it came to the operas confused provenance and probably first performance at the court of Charles 1st. Egarr reflected this by casting the Sorceress as a man, the excellent Giles Underwood. (But the libretto referred to him as the Sorceror). Additionally the missing guitar dances were improvised by the orchestra's guitarist, not entirely successfully I thought. Maltman and Coote were on stunning form; Coote looking wonderfully glamorous as well.

Unfortunately all the soloists, except for Underwood, were firmly wedded to their scores. Why is it that Emannuelle Haim and William Christie can bring shows to the Barbican with all the singers off the book but English groups seem to have arrays of soloists with eyes firmly fixed on the score. Even in a concert situation, having the singer not bound by a score and music stand makes such a big difference.

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