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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2013
Had to just quickly write this as my experience was so different from the other two reviewers and I hate to think people would be put off buying this because of these two negative reviews.

I attend about 50 live opera performances a year, and watch many more DVDs and all I can say is that for me this is one of the best acted productions I have seen in a long time. The central couple of Malena Ernman and Christopher Maltman are absolutely magnetic in their chemistry and subtle acting and both offer beautifully sung, totally committed vocal performances too. The witches are comical it is true, but they are meant to be - the music and text makes this obvious. Any appeal to this undermining the seriousness of the drama is ludicrous - this little miracle of an opera is a piece which contains everything and it would be disingenuous to smooth over Purcell's quirkyness (a factor which appears in virtually every piece of his), or the spirit of the age.

The production mixes modern and old but is visually arresting and should be acceptable to anyone who isn't completely reactionary about costumes and sets - as if that is what opera is about! To me opera is about telling a story (check) with beautiful music (check), with excellent acting (check) and the best possible musical interpretation (check). William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are exemplary in the pit. All in all then one of the most recommendable opera DVDs on the market.

Just to explain the school girls - Purcell's opera was originally written for them.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2010
Recorded at L'Opera Comique in December 2008, running barely over an hour, Purcell's short opera Dido & Aeneas has been padded out with a Prologue and Musical Improvisations added by Les Arts Florissants' conductor and founder; William Christie.

Deborah Warner's production transposes the action into a Shakespearean setting; it has the chorus and characters performing on a sparse stage. Added are a chorus (who do not sing) of 25 young school girls (in modern school uniforms) running about the stage at various times for no apparent reason.

The main protagonists are dressed in Elizabethan style clothing whilst the main chorus is dressed in modern casual. Added into the cast are acrobats that do nothing to enhance the story but only serve to distract from the drama (a disturbing trend in modern opera productions, similar to the idiotic trend of earlier years where directors insisted that composers insert ballet sequences into operas).

I did not understand the reason for the prologue, the text of which (Adonis and Echo) has nothing to do with the Opera's plot. Spoken and delivered with enthusiasm by Fiona Shaw, as if addressing a matinee audience consisting only of children. Bare footed, dressed in jeans and swinging a makeshift wooden sword, occasionally letting forth unpleasantly loud stressing on vowels that were painful to my ears.

Swedish soprano Malena Ernman carries the burden of the drama as Dido Queen of Carthage, torn between duty and her passion for the Trojan warrior Aeneas. Christopher Maltman is Aeneas, and Judith van Wanroij is Belinda.

Hilary Summers as the Sorceress together with her two underlings plays the witches' scenes with comic idiocy like pantomime villains, destroying the seriousness of the drama.

There lies the problem with this production; it is serious drama reduced to a side-show or pantomime.

Musically I could not fault this production. However, after viewing this Blu-ray, I reached for my DVD of the 1995 BBC production of this opera filmed at Hampton Court House with spectacular scenes and effects, the lead characters played by Maria Ewing and Karl Daymond. I prefer the BBC production over Deborah Warner's; her additions are too gimmicky and distracting for multiple viewings. The only thing that will draw me back to this Blu-ray is Malena Ernman and Judith van Wanroij.

There is not much to say about the Blu-ray. Visually it is very good but I found the audio to distort when the singers were reaching for the louder notes (this may also have been the problem with Fiona Shaw's Prologue). However, as this opera does not have to be played loud, this is a minor problem that can be overcome by turning on the subtitles and reducing the playback volume.

The extras consist mainly of the Producer/Director and Conductor explaining (or justifying) their additions an departures from the standard productions of Purcell's work.

I give the Singers and Orchestra; 5 stars, the Production; 3 stars and the Blu-ray; 4 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2014
First known performance of 'Dido and Aeneas' was at a girls' school in London July 1688,although there has been speculation that it might have been written for an earlier performance at the court. The opera was not staged again in Purcell's lifetime.
After 1705 it disappeared as a staged work, with only sporadic concert performances, until 1895 when the first staged version in modern times was performed by students
The reviewed version staged by Deborah Warner and directed by William Christie.

It seems to be all right to transform operas onto modern times. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. And there are several hybrides. Sometimes - as this one - with ill-dressed "skinheads" wearing clothes that has nothing with the opera to do. This particular opera is a cocktail of bad approach, Deborah Warner's disrespectful staging onto a wonderful piece of work which deserves much more perception.
The recording features noisy floor sounds, this I haven't heard in any other blu-ray opera.
Sad to say, but I believe that this is not the last time a director spoils a great opera. Be warned!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2010
I love this opera. But where do I begin - I hated this depressing travesty of a production from the start. Everything is wrong with it. Where is the drama, dignity, magic and emotion of the original baroque masterpiece? It left me totally unmoved, except with exasperation.

In my opinion the production is a horrible mismash of bad ideas from the outset, with little apparent appreciation of the underlying structure and beauty of the original music and drama written by Purcell and Tate.

In the presentation of the key main role, there is no leader-like dignity in the playing of the Carthiginian Queen, who behaves like an irritating overwrought emotional wreck from Desperate Housewives with far too much 'actorly' gasping and sobbing after sung lines - completely unnecessary as the music, honestly and sincerely sung, says everything. Poor acting and mugging in modern opera productions is surely no longer acceptable, especially when its being filmed in close up (and with sharp-eyed blu ray clarity). Where was the critical judgement of the director in guiding the performance?

As for the essential storyline element of drama, threat and foreboding that should be provided by the wonderfully evil Sorceress and Witches' scenes - Here it is played for laughs (or so I assume) with 'funny' wigs and over-the-top pantomime acting, (amateur night again). Its truly cringeworthy and, once again in my opinion, a major directing error of judgement discarding a key element of the story.)

With all palace, witches, and harbour scenes, Purcell's beautiful, dramatic and expressive musical interpretation of the libretto is the core of the piece. It only requires sincerity in performance to fully convey the emotion to an audience, not tricks and superfluous 'stage business'.

Christopher Maltman is the only performer worthy of note. His trademark honesty and sincerity with music and text are apparent in the underwritten part of Aeneas, and he does the best possible with it, especially when just allowed to sing. However, he is up against the odds here.

For those of a nervous or irritable disposition, I have to mention the frequent, irritating and pointless presence of the young school kids frequently running wild on stage. Why? And just to make them totally ingruous they are in modern school uniform - compared to the dog's dinner of the other costumes - some generic 'historical drama', some not.

There is also the incomprehensible incongruity of the invented prologue (disparate, unrelated poetry from a different era read by Fiona Shaw looking, equally incongruously, like St Joan complete with wooden sword, and in scruffy jeans - again why?).

And final 'honours' go to the overwhelmingly drab, lazy and minimal scenery and lighting design.

You may be surprised to learn, it wasn't for me! For lovers of this great Purcell opera, I would strongly recommend going instead for the beautifully realised DVD version directed by Peter Maniura with Maria Ewing as Dido, filmed in stunning style at Hampton Court House and grounds. This one hits all the right notes. (Good DVD, but sadly not Blu ray.)
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