Monday 3 October 2016

Stylish and compact: Ann Murray in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

Ann Murray - ©Sian Trenberth
Ann Murray - ©Sian Trenberth
Purcell Dido and Aeneas; Ann Murray, George Humphreys, Sophie Junker, Rupert Enticknap, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Sep 29 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A thoughtful and thought-provoking performance of Purcell's only opera

When an opera that usually lasts less than an hour is billed for two 40-minute ‘halves’ plus 20-minute interval, the last thing to expect is that it would be ‘compact’. Yet compact is exactly what this stylish performance was. David Bates and La Nuova Music performed Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, on 29 September 2016 at St John's Smith Square with Ann Murray and George Humphreys in the title roles, plus Sophie Junker and Rupert Enticknap.

David Peter Bates had prepared an edition that included dance interpolations from other contemporary entertainments by Purcell and Blow. He used his forces economically and used the St John’s space wisely. The band, led by Catherine Martin, consisted of ten players (strings, harp, theorbos, percussion) plus Bates conducting and playing continuo. They were positioned over to stage right, which required some rather expert pivoting on the conductor’s part. At one point the two lutenists came on to the stage and circled slowly around the singers.

Everything was of a piece, with no joins between the singing, dancing and instrumental numbers, or (to my ear) between the ‘native’ and interpolated numbers.
There were eight singers, with ‘smaller’ roles (if the Sailor and Witches could be called small) doubling as one-per-part chorus. This was no star vehicle for Ann Murray as Dido. She played someone who has achieved a lot in public life and then gets it wrong in love. Stately, adored and vulnerable, we really wanted to get to grips with what she had done to deserve the nastiness of the Witches. This is about love and loss, and also about reason and superstition. George Humphreys as Aeneas gave us the same mixture of poise and pushover; vocally and dramatically they were well matched. The Sorceress was countertenor Rupert Enticknap – unhinged. And Sophie Junker’s Belinda someone you oughtn’t to trust for a minute, but probably would.

Singers and dancers used the steps of the St John’s stage to good effect. There was nothing (bar a beeping watch alarm that nobody could locate or would admit to) to distract from the storytelling. In the chorus after the Lament (with the classiest “Remember Me's from a mezzo of any vintage), Ann Murray slumped on to a chair downstage while the dancer Bobbi Jene Smith slowly and silently flopped down the steps.

Above all, it was an ideal solution to the challenge of making Dido into a whole evening’s entertainment on its own without pairing it with another piece. A delightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking event.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - Dido and Aeneas

Ann Murray DBE DIDO
George Humphreys AENEAS
Sophie Junker BELINDA
Rupert Enticknap SORCERESS / SPIRIT
Nicholas Scott SAILOR
Martha McLorinan SECOND WITCH
William Townend BARITONE
Bobbi Jene Smith DANCER
David Peter Bates DIRECTOR

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