Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell, Libretto by Nahum Tate based on Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid
Gran Teatre del Licieu, Barcelona, Spain
Licieu Opera, Barcelona

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The Cast of Dido and Aeneas Credit: Pablo Lorente
The Cast of Dido and Aeneas Credit: Pablo Lorente
The Cast of Dido and Aeneas Credit: Pablo Lorente

Henry Purcell’s opera, featuring William Christie conducting Orchestra Les Arts Florissants, choreographed by Blanca Li and designed by Evi Keller, is so dance-led that Dido and Aeneas seem to be playing a supporting role to the dancers.

Dido, Queen and founder of Carthage, falls in love with Aeneas when he is shipwrecked on his way home from the Trojan War. They have a very brief fling before he is ordered to leave and found Rome. Dido is bereft.

The stage is very dark. Visibility is poor. The chorus wear drab casual clothes. The dancers wear black swimsuits. There is no suggestion of classical times and a royal court. The orchestra is on stage.

Dido, Aeneas, Belinda and the Sorceress stand rigid on pedestals which are occasionally moved back and forth They don’t look human. They look like statues, tall enough to be obelisks.

Kate Lindsey’s Dido, a tormented and dignified figure, is potentially a tragic figure. She has a great lament in the opera’s most famous aria, “When I am laid in earth.” But, in this production, there is no tragedy. There is only sculptural spectacle and choreography.

The actual storyline never engages the audience emotionally and becomes unnecessarily confusing when Renato Dolcini, who is cast as Aeneas, also plays the Sorceress, who plots Aeneas’s downfall.

The choreography is very disappointing. Blanca Li claims the dancers are expressing the emotions of the lovers. There is too much sliding on tummies on the watery stage. There are no boozy sailors and only a very limited amount of eroticism.

In 1689, the opera was performed by schoolgirls at Josias Priest’s boarding school in Chelsea. It is easy to imagine the fun the girls might have had playing the evil witches. Think Ronald Searle. Think St Trinian’s.

Grand Teatre del Licieu’s Dido and Aeneas can be watched free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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