Even in the modern age, Henry Purcell’s masterpiece of baroque opera Dido and Aeneas is simply sublime. When one listens to the pieces, they retain the same shimmering beauty as when first performed in 1692. Based on Virgil’s tragic romance occurring in Book Four of the Aeneid, it is arguably the best opera written in the English language. For an opera with such a short running time, it has a huge reputation, which only makes producing the damn thing even harder!
It is true, the St Peter’s cast and crew have taken on a huge mouthful of English classical music. But from the previewed material, they clearly have the stomach for it – and their ambitious selves could handle even more, if offered seconds. Walking in at Act II, I am greeted by a deliciously wicked performance of the Sorceresses plotting Dido’s downfall. The sheer glee as the contorted bodies of the Witches writhe while they sing their plans in ‘But Ere We This Perform’ is a pleasure to watch. As Act II progresses, it becomes clear how strong the chorus is as part of the production; their beautiful harmonies are flawless. They are an integral part of the production, becoming both props and players to the unfolding drama around them.
But the figure who impressed the most was that of the tragic icon, Dido (played by Rachel Coll). The role is intense, an emotional roller-coaster for any singer or actress, yet she succeeds in capturing her character and voice. Coll’s rendition of ‘Ah Belinda, I am pressed with Torment’ is heart-shattering. Her voice wraps around each sorrowful note perfectly, her diction is perfect. But it is not just her voice which deserves praise. Her expressions perfectly capture the emotional torment of her character. Her performance of ‘Dido’s Lament’ holds the room with a captivating sorrow, an almost-whisper falling into the heart-crashing final lines (‘Remember me, But forget my fate’). Her performance is, in short, flawless and tragic without being melodramatic.
The production promises to be awe-inspiring. As I am led around St Peter’s Chapel, where the opera will be staged, it becomes clear how ambitious the production team are. With 95 per cent of the cast sourced from within the College choir alone, and with only a week and a half of rehearsals it is clear how talented both the production team and cast are. I desperately plead that anyone and everyone go to see this immensely promising production.