The funereal atmosphere of St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames street brings a sense of doom to all corners of the church. The harsh spotlights capture the performers in their beams from a balcony above, while pale blue light drifts around their feet like graveyard mist. Dido is dead and the audience is present at her funeral, leaving no doubt as to the tragic end of this opera. This gloom, while enhancing and making the tragedy more epic is sadly not equally balanced in the lighter parts.
The baroque opera, composed in the seventeenth century retells the story of Dido, Queen of Carthage and her lover Aeneas and how they are parted by the evil machinations of a Sorceress determined to ruin Carthage. With the role around which the opera revolves, Karen Richmond is well cast as Dido, holding the tale together as the doomed queen, haunting herself and the audience within the church with her strong-voiced lament. Paul Vialard as Aeneas has an impressive voice, though the part is not an extensive one. Loretta Hopkins as Belinda, the confidante of Dido is the real heart of the production, with her superb voice and talent she will go far.
In opposition to the lovers and Carthage are the darkly clothed Witches. Playing the Sorceress with the type of glee that would make Malificent from Snow White proud is Manuella Schütte, stalking the church and looming powerfully over the action from the pulpit. This is where the union of the setting, costume and opera come together really well. The costumes are understated but emotive. Dido, clad in red implying a bloody end, though not without glamour and passion in life, the Witches in black but each adorned with a single talismans in gold and the acting chorus all in black with pale ghostly faces. The acting chorus do aid the telling of the tale in general, at times helpful to the story and at times confusing, as all their actions are conducted stoically which creates tension in dramatic parts but is at best unsettling in comedic or joyful parts.
But then this tale is a tragedy after all and Clemens non Papa Consort know it and thusly aim to blast the roof off with the deep lament of the music. They succeed admirably in making the evil machinations of the Sorceress and the tragedy of Dido extremely moving but give little life to the other parts.
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