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Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell

Genre: Opera and Operatic Theatre


St Andrews’s and St George’s West, George Street 


Low Down

Enjoyable performance of Purcell’s only all-sung opera delivered in the incomparable setting of a New Town church 


The grey pound is out in force at the architectural splendour that is St Andrew’s and St George’s Parish Church in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town on George Street for this, the first of two performances of Purcell’s only all-sung opera, one of the earliest English examples of this genre.

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas consists of a prologue and three acts set to a libretto by Nahum Tate. The first performance is believed to have been at Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London sometime in the summer of 1688.   The opera recounts the love story of Dido, Queen of Carthage for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when she finds out he has abandoned her.   Regarded by many as a leading example of Baroque opera, it is also remembered as one of Purcell’s foremost theatrical works.
This stage concert performance involved conductor Neil Metcalfe doubling up on harpsichord, a four piece ensemble and a ten strong choir to augment the three principals of Dido, Belinda and Aeneas. Members of the choir stepped out to sing the numerous minor solo arias.
It’s a timeless piece by one of England’s foremost composers and we were treated to a pleasant rendition by a competent company. The three principals, contralto Susan McNaught (Dido), soprano Lesley Bruce (Belinda) and baritone Dan Tennant (Aeneas) each have fine, rounded voices, although McNaught seemed to struggle with the upper range called for in the piece’s best known aria, When I Am Laid In Earth. But that’s a minor quibble to an enjoyable hour in that saw some entertaining vignettes from the minor soloists, none more so that the impressively kilted bass’s rendition of the First Sailor’s song, complete with nautical jig.
And the moral of this tragedy? It’s ill-advised for young women to succumb to the advances of amorous young male admirers. Some things, like Purcell’s music, are simply timeless.