Search - Henry Purcell, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants :: Purcell - Dido & Aeneas / Gens, Marin-Degor, N. Berg, Brua, Daneman, Fouchécourt, Méchaly, Les Arts Florissants, Christie

Purcell - Dido & Aeneas / Gens, Marin-Degor, N. Berg, Brua, Daneman, Fouchécourt, Méchaly, Les Arts Florissants, Christie
Henry Purcell, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants
Purcell - Dido & Aeneas / Gens, Marin-Degor, N. Berg, Brua, Daneman, Fouchécourt, Méchaly, Les Arts Florissants, Christie
Genre: Classical
Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is one of the very few 17th-century works to have entered the operatic "canon" and developed a modern performance tradition before the late 20th century's early-music revival. For listeners who h...  more »


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Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is one of the very few 17th-century works to have entered the operatic "canon" and developed a modern performance tradition before the late 20th century's early-music revival. For listeners who had grown fond of this opera in its "traditional" form, the period-instrument recordings of recent years have provided some odd surprises: an all-female cast (excepting Aeneas); a baritone Sorceress; singing in a style closer to a Restoration playhouse than Covent Garden. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, however, provide a stylish and lively period-instrument Dido with no casting surprises--to wit, the male roles are sung by men and the female roles by women, all of whom sound like classically trained singers. The only surprise, in fact, is how well the largely Francophone cast sings in English. (Only Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as the Sailor has a heavy accent.) Sophie Marin-Dégor is a nimble Belinda, Nathan Berg a virile Aeneas. While the Enchantresses are played for low comedy, Claire Brua portrays the Sorceress with snake-like slipperiness and venom; fast-rising star Véronique Gens gives us a Queen Dido combining regal dignity with youthful sweetness and emotion. --Matthew Westphal

Member CD Reviews

Carol S. from PARADISE, CA
Reviewed on 2/16/2007...
Great opera in three acts.

CD Reviews

A thrilling version of Dido
hcf | 12/31/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Since this is coming from William Christie, you won't be surprised to hear that this Dido is "frenchified." No, not because most of the singers are French - as the editorial review mentions, their English pronunciation is generally quite admirable. The reason I'm saying that this version of Dido is frenchified is the stylistic choices made by Christie, i.e. the presence of such French baroque features as over-dotting, reverse dotting, inegalite, and Lully-esque "agrements." But you know what? This just might be the way Purcell wanted this work performed! French influences on Purcell are well known. The interaction between French and English musical idioms is evident from other examples as well (e.g., while the English never fully shared the French aversion to castrati, no English boy was ever castrated, and the need for high-pitched voices was filled domestically by boy trebles, falsettists and high tenors). So Christie's decision to produce this lavishly embellished Dido is well within the ballpark of what we know about the English aesthetics of Purcell's times. This stylistic choice is especially gratifying in Dido's final lament. Christie approaches it with a change of tempo - from brisk to almost dangerously slow - and the famous lament unfolds with all the dramatic dignity and with all the stylistic bells and whistles that can be packed into the slow pace. The amazing Veronique Gens executes the lament with heart-stopping embellishments - runs, trills, turns, melismas, appogiaturas - trust me, once you hear THIS, any other Dido will seem dull by comparison!"
A compelling performance -- with Gens a peerless Dido
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 09/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Recent listening has found this reading of the opera edging up to toward the Hogwood in my affections.

I was prompted to revisit Christie's 12-year-old recording (his second, by the way) by interest in the voice and career of Nathan Berg, whose vocal prowess and stage charisma in the DVD of Rameau's _Les Indes Galantes_ electrified me.

To get some of the quirks and quibbles out of the way first: This performance has what must be the sparsest orchestra on record: 3 strings, flute, oboe, theorbo, and harpsichord. The same economy was applied in assembling the vocal company, with only a male alto and bass supplementing the soloists for the choruses. The Second Woman doubles as the First Witch, and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt does double duty as both the Spirit and the Sailor, neatly bridging Act II and Act III. None of this hobbles the production, to my ears, although the overall sound is more acerbic than the tremendous warmth that characterizes the Hogwood recording. Christie's bracing tone is perhaps most noticeable in the overture, intensified by the brusque pacing. The sparse vocal forces, too, make a couple of the choruses sound thing-textured.

The close of the second act is doctored, as so often nowadays: here, we are given a modern composer's setting of the Witches' text that survives in the libretto but whose music is lost from the score. It's just not inspiring enough to warrant inclusion. Personally, I've never been troubled by ending this act with Aeneas' uncertain soliloquy, with or without the Groves' Dance. Here the Witches' appearance is distracting, not to mention redundant given their rejoicing early on in Act III.

Christie's direction is emphatic, the pacing of the opera decisive and precise. Hectic early-music tempos do not dominate here; rather, tempos both fast and slow are taken with a refined and considered sensibility. In only one case early on does Christie misjudge, conducting the chorus "When monarchs unite" with abrupt swiftness. Otherwise, his pacing is musically and dramatically effective. It gives space and nuance to emotional expression. This performance, indeed, offers perhaps the best overall singing-acting of any performance. Seldom in any opera have I heard appoggiatura and ornament more movingly delivered. Christie's unrushed direction, its subtle "give," is the defining virtue of this recording. It offers unusual continuity and depth to the short, sketchy libretto. The effect is truly of hearing, through the sung words, the characters' thoughts _behind_ the words.

This dramatic excellence, as I say, informs the whole proceedings. Belinda is sung by Sophie Marin-Degor with exceptional insight, though for me her voice lacks any distinctive allure or profile. Through her characterization, this Belinda comes off as much more of an interventionist counselor to the queen than the typical sounding-board usually portrayed. Again, the deliberateness of the pacing makes the excellent sorceress of Claire Brua a truly malevolent presence, without the slightest hint of caricature or exaggeration.

Another fine vocal actor is Nathan Berg in the often thankless part of Aeneas. This is an early recording in his career (he was in his early 20s). I find him an altogether fascinating artist. His voice has a grainy timbre that I would normally find troublesome in a bass voice, but he has a remarkable ability to use this quality to enrich his roles, giving them uncommon emotional integrity. Vocally, his performance here is strong if not outstandingly beautiful. The virility of his voice and the strength of his characterization rescue Aeneas from the impression of being a swashbuckling cad. Berg actually develops the character, abetted by Christie's generous pacing. On being ordered by the spirit to sail from Carthage, he utters "Tonight?" with genuine surprise and incredulity. At once we recognize that, although the opera belongs to Dido, this Aeneas is more than a peg on which to hang her emotions. Aeneas has his own motivations, his own troubles, his own fate.

In my review of Haim's recording, I mention that Susan Graham's gorgeously sung Dido is all woman and no queen, especially in the final scene. The amazing Veronique Gens struggles not with this dichotomy: she is every inch--or, rather, every note--woman _and_ queen. In the early-music scene, Gens has always had a voice of lyric strength. Her performance here is tender, intense, willful, passionate, and sorrowful--she is the embodiment of tragedy. Again, Christie's pacing gives her unusual freedom to develop her character. This brief libretto does not waste words, and Gens makes no utterance that does not advance the story. Her every ornament is organic, sung beautifully and tellingly. In her performance she interacts fully with the other singers while maintaining her emotional isolation ... creating a true drama around her character. To a certain extent, her reading most recalls Norman's redoubtable Dido under Leppard.

All of these strengths come together in the heartbreaking final scene. Belinda appears as a persuasive advocate of Aeneas up to the very end. In their confrontation, Gens and Berg accomplish what almost no other recording has done: they have chemistry, actually sounding like a couple in crisis. The listener is convinced that Berg's Aeneas would stay if given the chance; in their concluding rapid-fire entreaty and dismissal, Christie again gives just enough room so that you can hear Berg's sincerity, and hear him being beaten down to discouragement with each iteration of "Away!" This leads directly to the final recitative and lament, an expansive tour de force shared by Christie, Gens, orchestra, and chorus. In a haunting introduction, a single cello underpins the recitative--mournful, slightly discordant, almost gasping. The lament itself is commanding and heart-stopping. Gens has a voice of such innate drama, that her highly wrought performance rings completely true. Almost every phrase is richly embellished, save her unadorned first pass at "Remember me, but forget my fate" -- but it all sounds essential, even inevitable. Indeed, the lead-up has been so convincing as drama that the lament's impact is shattering ... I confess to breaking down on hearing it. This is the performance of the lament that my mind's ear has long awaited, as almost a platonic ideal.

Christie's vision and mastery of execution are unmistakable. You get the impression that he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. The non-native speakers are completely idiomatic. His restraint with sound effects in the Witches' first scene allows him to use the three strings ingeniously to evoke the ominous setting. In most places the chorus's part is perfectly judged: in the Grove scene, the handful of singers are divided to beguiling effect for the repeat of "Thanks to these lonesome vales."

Hogwood's performance still lays first claim to my affections. While Christie's performance is perfectly realized musical theater, Hogwood gives us something more, at least as a recording artifact: drama brought to life by complete faith and reliance on the music. The warmth of his orchestra, the unsurpassed beauty of all the voices, the utter aptness of every note and the sureness of pacing ... these all make Hogwood's recording something of a consummation of the opera on record. On hearing it, one feels no need to look further to seek the truth of this work. Still, Christie accomplishes an impressive feat: a fresh exploration of a timeless masterpiece; and a thrilling performance from Gens, whose powerful, peerless Dido manages not to obliterate the other players.