Looking on the bright side, the best thing I can say about this reconstruction of a 1700 presentation of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is that it made us appreciate anew how wonderful this miniature gem of an opera is.
But on Saturday night we had to endure a whole lot of dross before we came to the marvel which is Purcell’s score – and even this was tinkered with in the adornments by Philip Pickett and Peter Holman which we heard here. A whole circus of colourful instruments padded out the composer’s elegant string orchestra, and the most depressing moment came when extraneous trumpets hijacked the allusive fanfares of the hunting scene overviewed by the plotting witches.
And what witches these were, cast as East End hoodies aimlessly mooching about, as clichéd as the Mummerset sailors leaving their nymphs on the shore at the beginning of Act III. The rest of Jonathan Miller’s direction consisted of more aimless shuffling around the stage, the characters drably costumed by Eskandar who had a whole gushing credit in the programme.
If we were going for an authentic revival (which included Eccles’ added music, paling before Purcell’s genius), why was there no dance? The Town Hall prospectus named a choreographer, the programme omitted any mention, as there was none.
Philip Pickett directed a crisp, stylish and compact orchestra, and the equally compact cast made a sonorous chorus, always clear of diction.
Julia Gooding’s Dido was laid-back, and uninvolving. She had problems with the name of her confidante, which often came out as “Belinder”. Michael George as Aeneas stood out head and shoulders above the entire company.