Dido and Aeneas’ Wiggy lunch date (Wigmore Hall, 7 April 2018)

La Nuova Musica and their Director of Micromanagement (Bates) was back at Wiggy midday Saturday with a rather Purcefalian Dido and a very lively array of mezzos.

La Nuova Musica
David Bates director
Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano (as Dido)
George Humphreys baritone (as Aeneas)
Anna Dennis soprano (as Belinda)
Emilie Renard soprano (as Sorceress) soprano…?
Helen Charlston mezzo-soprano (as First Witch)
Martha McLorinan mezzo-sporano (as Second Witch)
Louise Kemény soprano (as Second Woman)
Nick Pritchard tenor (as Sailor)
Richard Bannan baritone (as Spirit)

You don’t realise why some bang on about diction in singing until you hear an opera in a language you can instantly understand. The people on stage start to produce sound and all of a sudden you panic because the salvation of surtitles is missing and all you can make out is oeaiueaooo biscuit oooieueeeaa missed it. I was starting to question my recently checked ears when I remembered I’d just seen Le Concert d’Astrée there two days before, from exactly the same distance. It was a very different auditory experience.

Now though La Nuova Musica copes a lot better than AA, the ethos is similarly noise (ba)rock. Bates can’t be faulted for enthusiasm but the whole business comes out unecessary noisy – for my ears at least. Whereas with Le Concert d’Astrée I followed an interesting approach to sounding energetic without attempts at breaking the sound barrier, yesterday (as on other occasions) Nuova Musica’s efforts seemed to me cluttered, though this time the Wiggy legendary acoustics meant the singers could be heard (at least from row G). Add to that most of the singers’ problematic diction and there were few precious moments where I could follow the emotion at the heart of the piece.

The story, as I suppose most are aware, is stupid. Trojan stud warrior Aeneas has a pitstop in the port of Carthage on his way to sealing his place in mythology by founding Rome. He has a one night stand with the local queen and then sails merrily on his way, whilst she kills herself on account of her freshly broken heart. Ze end.

Because this is a 17th century opera we thankfully have comic relief, in the shape of the Sorceress and witches, who are jumping at the opportunity of bringing Carthage down (why do you hate Carthage, dehggi? – rather, their evil glee was infectious). Lucky for us, our Sorceress was dehggi favourite Emilie Renard, who pulled off another one of her hilarious performances as the meanly gleeful Boss Witch. I’ve always enjoyed her involvement in the drama and willingness to go for expression without fear of not sounding pretty enough. Her summoning of evil forces came off epic, from the grand way she “entered” (from the soloists’ chair to the side) to the actual interaction with the choir, classic diva moves and wicked glances.

She had spirited help from (and very good communication with) fellow mezzos Helen Charlston and Martha McLorinan as the Junior Witches, itchy at the prospect at wreaking havoc with poor Dido. Renard clarified my confusion when I could actually understand what she was saying, proving the problem wasn’t on my side.

The witch action and the choir’s interventions were the best moments of the early afternoon. The choir in general was very good, with smooth blending, high levels of energy and engagement and, as mentioned, good solo/duo moments. One of the felicitous moments from a member of the choir was Nick Pritchard’s (Sailor) short forshadowing aria about how sailors are players. He sang stylishly I could once again understand what was being said.

Humphreys as top man Aeneas was also rather good in the diction department. His projection helped his well handled baritone sail (ha.ha) over the general noise and his first interaction with Rachel Kelly’s disconcertingly demure Dido was very apt (his Aeneas looked like he was thinking “nice bit of distraction”). During their quarrel the morning after he even appeared ready to appease Dido when protesting that he would stay.

Dido is a role that I suppose needs a bit of life experience? I obviously don’t know Kelly’s experience with being dumped by a man who’s in a hurry to fulfill his destiny of founding a great imperial nation but I wager (and hope) she hasn’t so far had reasons to dwell on that time when they will lay her in earth. I personally got no rhyme or reason out of her interpretation of that very famous lament. Sure, her mezzo is a beautiful instrument and there is quite a bit of attention to musical detail in her interpretation, so what I specifically missed was the purpose (and the diction) behind all her efforts.

I don’t know what age Dido is supposed to be but as one of the tragic heroines of opera I can’t shake the feeling that she needs quite a bit of gravitas. Either Kelly’s reading was of a very young, naive woman – which I wouldn’t say is wrong per se – or she simply can’t do gravitas. Young and naive is fine but then there’s the music. Maybe you are very green but I guess when death is the only option as presented here you quickly sober up – and perhaps even wisen up (momentarily). It’s that destiny thing at work – and destiny is very serious business indeed.

A mention needs to go to Anna Dennis’ Belinda, rocking an ’80s reminiscent outfit (bangles, strappy sandals, boldly cut outfit), complete with closely cropped hair. Her poor Belinda does what she can to support Dido but to no avail. Beautiful voice, solid singing, strong stage presence, though she too needs to work on her diction.

This is an early opera (composed between 1683 and 1688), so I figure it benefits from being sung in that “Monteverdi manner” (for want of a better term – please inform me what the proper one is for future ref) where the sounds produced don’t come off as very operatic. For whatever reason that was not always the case – let’s just say the singers who I could best understand were the ones who adhered to this.

So although I as usual had some quibbles, I was still left with a smile on my face for the rest of the day, which might not be the overall emotion intended by the opera, but, as ROH says, any emotion is better than no emotion and a positive one is best.

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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on April 8, 2018, in baroque, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, operatic damsels in distress, wigmore hall and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. like! before reading! now i go read.
    ps- she swapped to soprano so she can sing over the harpsichord 😉

    • The story, as I suppose most are aware, is stupid
      😉

      • oeaiueaooo biscuit oooieueeeaa missed it

        based on my very crude understanding from recent slew of basi readings, the sound will natually be warped and sometimes you will either have to sacrifice that to make the pitch and sound quality, or you pronounce it right and the pitch is off…
        However it should not be full excuse for general poor diction.. because we hace heard in the past other singers (albeit on tube) able to communicate the music and also diction in this work)

        • Trojan stud warrior loser Aeneas

          there, fixed it for you, first their fetish of the horse, then abandon all the women..

          🙂

        • oh, the sound was uniformly beautiful for the singers with diction problems, and fair enough to that, but being in English and no surtitles I was expecting to understand what was going on. I’ve seen so many people at Wiggy sing even in languages I mostly don’t understand and could make out the words no problem so there’s really no excuse. Like you said – then make yourself understood via phrasing (which “Belinda” did).

  2. I am very, very very very very upset that I missed this. I had been looking out for a local Dido for about two years. Especially checking Wig. Obviously not hard enough 😐 Alas…

  3. 😀 😀 the summary!
    I think diction is also more important in music from this time compared to later works, since it should be very closely intermingled with the vocal interpretation if done well.

  4. forget the plot, did you just say ‘lively array of mezzos’.
    gets out lounge chair and popcorn

  5. A few thoughts on a piece I’ve seen umpty ump times… Dido is a widow so not likely to be in the first flush of youth. Life experience for sure. The best interpreter I’ve seen was Krisztina Szabo who was FIERCE. Singing style? I’d say something close to the way one sings English art song rather than opera. Helps if the band is properly small. I doubt that Purcell would have used more than ten instrumentalists.

    • thanks 🙂 the band was small, it’s just that Bates likes noise.

      actually, if she’s not that young it makes more sense that she decides to kill herself – sort of “I should’ve known better than to get so emotional”.

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