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The original libretto for Purcell's opera indicates dances at several points, for which no music has survived. Opera North used Clifford Bartlett's edition of the score which, like other modern editions, borrows pieces from other Purcell works to fill the gaps. Collins grabbed the opportunity to give us a Dido and Aeneas full of movement with some striking visual images -- Aeneas' sailors, in their torn and muddied costumes, make their entrance from the back by rolling forward over the set like breaking waves. The moon, the sea -- the natural world was a palpable presence in this production.

Susan Bickley's Dido was very much on her dignity. At least, she tried to be, but her vulnerable humanity kept breaking through -- she broke down completely in Act One as she wrestled with her conflicting emotions. Her final lament, 'When I am laid in earth', was sung with compelling simplicity.

Adam Green was a believable Aeneas, neither wimp nor swine, but just as much a victim of emotional conflict as Dido. Amy Freston was a sympathetic and touching Belinda, supported by Lucy Crowe's brightly-sung Woman. Clarissa Meek's new-age Sorceress conveyed malevolence without resorting to caricature. Clear-toned counter-tenor James Laing donned a boar's head to become the victim of Aeneas' hunt, then removed it to reveal himself as the Spirit who orders him to leave for Rome.

As Dido breathed her last, cradled in Belinda's arms, the chorus gradually moved forward from the back of the stage to take up positions ranged round it in a wide spiral loop. At the end they slowly joined hands, turning into a human version of the set for Les Noces. Magical.

Copyright © 8 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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