This performance of Dido and Aeneas, taken from a 1995 television production directed by Peter Maniura, and conducted by Richard Hickox, is a gorgeous realization of Purcell's masterpiece. Some performances of the opera run the risk of being primarily quaint and charming, but the gritty, unflinching naturalism of this production gives it an emotional realism that can feel almost shocking. Hickox has an exceptional cast of singing actors who are unfailingly convincing in drawing the audience into their world. Maria Ewing is a remarkable Dido, her expressive, plangent, and supple voice believably conveying the Queen's tender vulnerability, regal fury, and grief. Musically, Aeneas can be a cipher of a role, but Karl Daymond has a potent presence that gives him credible dramatic parity with the Queen of Carthage. Daymond's heroic, ringing baritone makes him a memorable and sympathetic Aeneas who loves Dido and is genuinely devastated at being compelled to leave her. Sally Burgess' Sorceress is beautifully understated, but undeniably malevolent, the piercing purity of her voice in ironic contrast to her hateful behavior. Rebecca Evans is a winsome, sweetly radiant Belinda, and all of the smaller roles are vividly sung and characterized. Richard Hickox's reading of the score with the period instrument ensemble Collegium Musicum 90 is unobtrusive, even somewhat plain, but in this viscerally urgent production, that's a virtue; an elaborately ornamented performance might have seemed mannered and out of place. The sound is clear and wonderfully natural, disarmingly direct, and intimate. The performance is also available on a Kultur DVD, where the stunning visuals and exceptional acting give it an even more powerful impact. Highly recommended.
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