Monday, September 20, 2010

Henry Purcell - Dido and Aeneas – Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Chamber Opera)

Henry Purcell's chamber opera, "Dido and Aeneas," is plentifully represented on disk, but Nicholas McGegan's recording, with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge is the freshest and most compelling since Andrew Parrott's magnificent account of 1981 (on Chandos). Mr. McGegan's soloists -- Lorraine Hunt as Dido, Lisa Saffer as Belinda and Michael Dean as Aeneas -- work wonders with the concise characterizations provided by Purcell and his librettist, Nahum Tate.

As gorgeously as Emma Kirkby sang Dido for Mr. Parrott, Ms. Hunt captures theHenry Purcell Carthaginian queen's anger and resignation far more vividly. Her voice has the right coloration for the role. Slightly dusky and nicely rounded, it sounds regal but not stolid. As such, it contrasts nicely with Ms. Saffer's brighter, lither sound, an important distinction in the work's opening scene, when the optimistic Belinda unwittingly urges Dido toward a fateful liaison with Aeneas...Mr. Dean is also an ideal match as Aeneas, and that is a rarity...Mr. McGegan mirrors these qualities in an orchestral accompaniment that is spirited, invitingly transparent and, most important, as carefully nuanced as the singing.--Allan Kozinn

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