Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas has always been
popular. First performed in 1689, this chamber opera can be
seen as a distillation of Purcell’s style in miniature. Part
of its popularity may be due to its length; at less than one
hour, it contains no fat, as many longer operas of the time
do. In addition to being short, its individual numbers are also
brief. In this recording, only one aria (Ah! Belinda)
is over four minutes long, and most sections are less than two
minutes. This can be frustrating, as one may want them to go
on longer, their music being so beautiful.
On the other hand this work is short enough that
one can listen to it more often the better to appreciate it.
And here is a version that both deserves and stands up to repeated
listenings. With a warm, lush sound, Emmanuelle Haïm leads Le
Concert d’Astrée through this wonderful performance recorded
in France in 2003. The two lead voices should be enough to attract
you to this particular recording: Susan Graham is splendid as
Dido, and Ian Bostridge excellent as Aeneas. The choir is also
top-notch, and even the supporting cast includes such leading
voices as David Daniels and Paul Agnew. The only exception is
the voice of the “First Witch”, unnamed in the credits, at the
beginning of Act II: she sings in a different style and tone
from what this music needs. Her voice is huge, aggressive, vibrato-laden,
in stark contrast to those of the other soloists.
This recording benefits from fine sound, especially
in the balance between the soloists and the choir, and one hears
the subtler tones, such as the harpsichord and theorbo clearly.
It is no surprise that this recording bears a recommendations
from other leading classical review authorities; in fact, it
is part of a series of such discs, that highlight key recordings
at bargain prices.
If you’re looking for a great recording of Dido
and Aeneas that won’t hit your pocketbook, look no further;
this is the one.