Pinchgut’s Dido and Aeneas nothing less than exceptional

by | Jun 2, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Opera

Pinchgut Opera | Dido and Aeneas

June 2, 2024, City Recital Hall, Sydney, NSW

Pinchgut Opera has once again proven its mastery of the Baroque repertoire with a captivating performance of Henry Purcell’s star-crossed love story Dido and Aeneas at Sydney’s City Recital Hall. This production, directed by Lucy Clements, not only resurrects a classic but elevates it to new heights.

Unlike most opera overtures this production begins with complete silence…

…from whence emerges wizardry.

kanen breen and valda wilson

Kate Mulvany’s dramatic prologue, a newly crafted addition to the opera, replacing the original that was lost who knows when, serves as an introduction to the complex character of Dido, founder and Queen of Carthage. Her story is presented through the eyes of the Sorceress, played by Kanen Breen, who by the way absolutely steals the show. Draped in golden glittery fabulousness from head dress right down to the very fingertips, the Sorceress’ every gesture drips with manipulation, obsession and malevolence (and some more golden glitter), setting the stage for the drama that unfolds. Each word uttered (‘We hate her…How we hate her!’), each gesture made, adds depth and complexity to the characters we are about to meet.

 

In the titular roles, Valda Wilson and David Greco deliver performances that ignite the stage with a fiery intensity, they share a chemistry that borders on the erotic, drawing the audience into the depth of their passion which crackles with a seductive energy (yes, this is a trademark of Pinchgut shows – and yes, we love it).

valda wilson and david greco

Sara Macliver shines as pure Belinda, her soprano a beacon of strength and grace amidst the turmoil. The ensemble cast, including members of Cantillation, deliver performances of exceptional quality, each voice adding, as necessary, humour, drama or malice to their characters. They are not so much a chorus as a number of small additional solo parts, and their numerous and highly technical duets and ensemble parts were delivered with impeccable musicality.

louis hurley sara macliver valda wilson and lana kains

Led by Erin Helyard’s visionary direction and exhilarating conducting, the Orchestra of the Antipodes is resplendent and emotionally charged. Helyard’s solo harpsichord accompaniments are sublime, while Simon Martyn-Ellis’ mastery of the theorbo adds a bucolic touch to certain scenes. Other notable solos from within the orchestra came from Laura Vaughan on viola da gamba, Mikela Oberg on recorders, and Kevin Man on percussion. Man’s thunderous drumming and screechingly bowed harmonics perfectly match the Sorceress’ malice.

The production’s stark staging and costume design, by Jeremy Allen, are effective in their simplicity, allowing the performers and their beautifully choreographed movements, by Shannon Burns, to fill the space and shine. Morgan Moroney’s lighting designs, however, are the true stars of the show, capturing the emotion, drama and intensity with perfectly crafted chiaroscuro.

I have never seen a Pinchgut Opera production that I did not love, I try to get to every program, and Dido and Aeneas was up there with the best of them – with a new prologue, a stellar cast, visionary direction, and electrifying performances, this production was nothing less than exceptional.

Photo credit: Cassandra Hannagan

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