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16 July, 2004

Baroque Masterworks at Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Opera House. Friday 16th July 2004.

Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Monteverdi)
Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)

Conductor Richard Gill
Director Patrick Nolan
Design Gabriela Tylesova
Main singers: Angus Wood, Ali McGregor, Han Lim, Deborah Humble, Kanen Breen, Lisa Harper-Brown.

Billed as “Baroque Masterworks”, this double bill was at the same time intriguing, charming, educational and yet fraudulent. An "opera" which was no opera at all, and is shorter than the intermission at 17 minutes is hardly a worthy opening partner to the classic early English work Dido & Aeneas.

The first half, actually a short ‘madrigal’, was introduced by the characters walking onto stage from the auditorium with narrator Angus Wood taking the main role confidently. The two title characters sing in turn of their emotions as the (ludicrous) story unfolds. All the while, two dancers who represent the combatants/lovers climb down from the enormous surreal painted backdrop on which they are cleverly concealed. They then act out the story of infidel love, disguise, fight, baptism, inopportune death and redemption.

The choreography was stunningly devised by Lucy Guerin and performed by Delia Silvan and Byron Perry. It was easily the most memorable thing of the evening for me. The enigmatic style used staccato limb and body movements, rolls and even a brief piece which might have been from the Kama Sutra.

After the early interval, Purcell’s gift was given in a charming, eclectic and quirky production. The ‘Greek’ chorus with white mop hairdo’s was cleverly used, right down to their undergarments when encouraged by the green ‘froggy’ Sorcerer played ably by Kanen Breen.
I was surprised at the ludicrous decision to have Dido sung by possibly the country's best contralto/deep mezzo ... in a part which had few if any low chest register notes to sing! Like the others, she sang extremely well and acted in keeping with the story. Lisa Harper-Brown is monumental in both stature and voice, moving elegantly on stage, playing the Punic sister. Wood was the star of both works to my view.

Conductor Gill played one of two harpsichords which were surrounded by a very small but specialised baroque orchestra. In both halves we were asked for silence while they tuned up. On such a short evening, I could not see why they did not tune up before we all entered.

These fossil gems of operatic archæology might best have been given together, the Monteverdi making an apt ‘curtain-raiser’. Then, for the second half, take your pick from the Trittico operas, Cav, Pag or even Trial by Jury, which was probably the next successful English opera after Dido. Only then could people feel that they had received value for their $200 which many had paid for this Friday night gala.

condemnments by Andrew Byrne ..