Sunday, December 28, 2014

Henry Purcell – Dido and Aeneas

   Henry Purcell was undoubtedly one of best composers in 17th century. As leading English born composer of his time, he was also the one of most popular British composers ever. Position he achieved he owned to his perfectly balanced techniques, stylistic connections with Italian and French Baroque music as well as his individual melodic talent. He left numerous works although he lived only 36 years (1659-1695). He was writing music as a boy, but his earliest known compositions he wrote as eleven years old. He wrote odes, anthems and incidental music. Great collection of religious music, some songs, stage music and instrumental pieces. His operas and masques were famous and gave him privileged position and good reputation. He wrote King Arthur (1691) with great success and  The Fairy-Queen (1692) which was an adaptation of Shakespearian A Midsummer Night's Dream. After composer death the score of this composition was lost for two centuries. In year of his death, he composed The Indian Queen. All these works were semi-operas. The one who made him famous was Dido and Aeneas.
   Chamber opera Dido and Aeneas was Purcell’s only all-sung opera. It was composed in 1680’s to libretto by Nahum Tate. The first known performance was in 1688 in Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London, which is the source of usual to this opera woman cast, so different from typical baroque casting rules. Also the plot of the libretto was not telling the strict story from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid. The love between Dido, the Queen of Carthage and Aeneas, the Trojan hero has here an allegoric shape alluded to current political situation in England. In Nahum Tate’s libretto significant role was given to Sorceress and witches, who were not present in Virgil’s story. Here they are allegory of Roman Catholicism and its machinations in England. Dido, who represents people of Britain, became the main character of the opera. Simple means and powerful emotional impact makes this tragic story universal story of love, treason and renunciation.

Henry Purcell – Dido and Aeneas (1968)

   In recording history of Dido and Aeneas there were lots of realizations, and frequently they were the subject of artistic variability. Esthetic ideas, changing over the decades, make collection of different renditions especially interesting. And what is characteristic, this opera in different perspectives is still convincing as a complete and universal work. It’s because Purcell’s style is clear and supports musical universality. Of course most appreciated performances are in accordance with actual trends. But sometimes it can be enriching to remind oneself older recordings and observe how time has changed our point of view. One of the best between historical performances of Purcell’s opera is Charles Mackerras 1967 recording for Archiv Produktion. Monteverdi-Chor Hamburg and NDR Chamber Orchestra are steady base for whole performance with Tatyana Troyanos, Barry McDaniel, Sheila Armstrong, Patricia Johnson, Margaret Baker, Margaret Lensky, Paul Esswood and Nigel Rogers.
   Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) was conductor widely recognized for his Purcell and Haendel interpretations. He conducted Dido and Aeneas with Janet Baker during 1966 Glyndebourne Festival and next year between September 30 and October 4, he recorded this great rendition in Hamburg Eberthalle. Starring in this cast Tatyana Troyanos gave one of most powerful, deeply dramatic performance of Dido. Interesting fact is Paul Esswood performance as Spirit. Famous countertenor was present here four years before his formal debut in Messiah for the BBC in 1971. Also Sheila Armstrong and Barry McDaniel have been recorded in great shape. On the cover of Archiv re-edition Dido and Aeneas painted by Guido Reni ca. 1630. This is nice album and very good rendition, traditional and well balanced, with sustainable choirs and great solo vocal performances. One of these you at least once ought to hear. Three and a half star with no hesitation. 

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