Dido & Aeneas

Dido & Aeneas
By Henry Purcell. State Opera South Australia in collaboration with The Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. Plant 4, Bowden, SA. 2-7 October, 2018.By Henry Purcell. State Opera South Australia in collaboration with The Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. Plant 4, Bowden, SA. 2-7 October, 2018.

Your humble reviewer admits to being something of an opera novice, but this hour-long production is a pleasant experience indeed.

Aside from its brevity, there are other aspects to this particular presentation that felt unusual; chief among them would be the cabaret seating arrangement, as well as the venue itself: Plant 4 at Bowden (formerly the Clipsal factory). Perhaps it was the relative intimacy of this performance space that inspired the decision to allow the singers to go without head mics – but given that Dido & Aeneas is an English-language opera, performed without benefit of surtitles, concentration was required.

On opening night, one component that happened to be out of the production team’s control was weather. While lightning strikes provided spectacular visual effects free-of-charge, a significant drawback of the rainy conditions was the consequent diminishment of audibility – which the cast, to their credit, partly succeeded in overcoming.

In any event, though this newcomer to The Aeneid (from which the story of D&A is derived) found the onstage events a challenge to comprehend (the programme will help explain if you get lost), this matters relatively little when the music (composed by Henry Purcell in the 17th century) is of such a high quality. Luke Dollman conducts a supple and supportive orchestra that is a consistent pleasure to hear. Equally impressive are the many-and-varied chorus members, creatively directed by Nicholas Cannon (and lit by Wesley Hiscock) to make full imaginative use of Plant 4’s idiosyncrasies.

The title roles are portrayed by Bethany Hill and Raphael Wong with a tremendous combination of visual presence, vocal beauty, and strength of personality. Ailsa Patterson’s design work seems to combine old-world influences with more modern styles, which makes for a most intriguing visual presentation to an evening that was certainly enough to not only leave this reviewer satisfied but also looking forward to his next opera assignment - whenever it may come and whatever it may be.

Anthony Vawser

Images: Bernard Hull Photography

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