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A Bifocal Aeneas

Grand Théâtre
10/13/2001 -  and 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24 October 2001
Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Wilhelmenia Fernandez (Didon); Sophie Marilley, Andrew Schroeder (Aeneas); Carlotte Müller Perrier, Janet Williams (Belinda); Marina Lodygensky, Marisol Montalvo (Second lady); Sibyl Zanganelli, Brigitta Svénden (the Magician);
Christophe Perton (Director),
Orchestre baroque du Grand Théâtre, Chœur baroque du Grand Théâtre, Hervé Niquet (conductor)

Two different Dido and Aeneas’ are presented to the Geneva public in two absolutely different productions. However there is one exception: they have been created by the same French director, Christophe Perton. One happens in a contemporary boarding school for young girls and the second in Africa.

But why a boarding school? It recalls the fact that the opera was played for the first time at the boarding school of the choreographer Josias Priest in Chelsea in 1689. The whole direction is a bit weird. A preamble of about ten minutes during which the girls of the boarding school, and the privileged public, can listen to the Voice of America - if one has missed it at home, this a true opportunity to catch up with the latest news. Then we have the delight of seeing the girls dance on some music from the same radio. Eventually the conductor gives the long awaited gesture and the music of Purcell, this time, may commence. One may already conclude that in this Dido, patience is truly a virtue. The girls perform the story with the help of the cleaning woman, that plays the role of Dido. A wardrobe, the beds and other equipment of the dormitory become the set of this performance.

The second one is completely different. We are brought back to a more traditional way of setting opera: spectacular colours and ideas illustrate the story that is set in red sands, somewhere in Africa. A window opens and witches appear hanging up side down, fluorescent in the dark recalling some circus performance. The boat and its equipage drown in the storm and eventually Dido is left to herself to die.

The two performances of Dido are indeed very different in style and conception, but surprisingly enough, also in quality. The cast is different but the choir, the orchestra are the same, and, in spite of that, the musical performance is incomparable. The second performance brings us a more authentic baroque interpretation. The singers are better and the sounds are more harmonious. Even Wilhelmenia Fernandez who performs in both casts is much closer to the spirit of Purcell then in her first performance. All in all, the second Dido and Aeneas has saved the evening.

Zoltan Bécsi



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