In baroque times, theatrical evenings would begin with the meaty tragedy and finish with a frothy comedy as a late-night sorbet.
But Armonico Consort Opera thought differently on Wednesday at the Warwick International Festival, opening with Moliere’s satirical Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (music by Lully) and ending with Purcell’s sombre Dido and Aeneas — apparently in order that at the end of the comedy, as it prepares for the performance of a new opera, we could get a quotation from Purcell’s noble overture: one of the most offensive limp-wristed in-jokes I have ever encountered.
The Moliere seemed a pointless affair. We no longer laugh at the chavvy vulgarities of the nouveau riche, which are now in our faces every day. And in fact the M. Jourdain in this production was the most endearing, sympathetic character of the lot, David Brett, a diamond geezer who obviously believed that his attempts at social climbing were the thing to do.
Apart from that, Anna Tolputt directed a production worthy of village-hall theatricals, and Kit Hesketh Harvey’s new performing translation made negligible impact — just like the minimal musical contribution from the Armonico Consort.
And unfortunately Christopher Monks’ players made just too much of an impact in the Purcell, sonorous tones overpowering the rather squally singing on offer onstage.
This was a bizarre production from Michael McCaffery of this sublime operatic miniature. Dido’s handmaid Belinda was in the pay of the baddies, the chorus, blacksuited, moved around in stocking-like masks, and Aeneas, his words toe-curlingly forced into sexual imagery, also sang the roistering Sailor’s song.
Katie Bird’s passionate, committed Dido deserved a better context than this overloaded “director’s opera”.