Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas - Salzburger Festspiele, Felsenreitschule

Performance 18th August

One of my highlights of this summer was a concert version (at least they announced it as a concert version) of Purcell's only real opera and I was looking forward to it with thrilling anticipation. In the end they made a very reduced production which had an enormous impact. Concept and direction were made by conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. Costumes and staging were made by Florence von Gerkan. The whole production was very minimalistic but very elegant and extremely emotional. The whole scenery with the arcades of the Felsenreitschule were magnificent and looked marvelously together with the staging.
Musically Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble were playing so brilliantly that one was just blown away by the wonderful music. Everything sounded so delicately and tastefull. But even the wilder parts were thrilling and ravishing. The Balthasar Neumann Chor also was just breathtaking perfect. The several choir parts sounded exceptionally and I could not imagine it being performed better. Especially during the last scene, when the choir joined the ensemble in the orchestra pit (where there were no lights on anymore) and just the arcades and four fire bowls enlightend the stage the effect was genuinely breathtaking (almost literally).
In the smaller roles Hermann Oswald convinced as a drunk and reckless sailor. Marion Eckstein sang the Second Witch and the Spirit with her lovely dark and warm voice. Anne Bierwirth let us hear her strong dark alto voice in the role of the First Witch. Agnes Kovacs gave a very beautiful sounding second woman with a very beautiful soprano.
Katja Stuber as Belinda also was a very delightful casting choice. Her light beautiful soprano is clear like a bell and sounded heavenly. Also her diction was impressive for you were able to understand almost everything she sang.
 A great highlight for me was actress Johanna Wokalek as Sorceress. Wokalek wrote several new texts which were added before, during and after the opera. Those texts explained the figure of the sorceress a little bit better and fitted perfectly into the whole piece. Wokalek did not actually sing her role in the usual operatic style but with her normal voice. Now I have to admit that I was a little surprised when she began to sing, but in fact her intontation was perfect and I thought that the cold rough timbre of her voice suited the role perfectly. Afterwards I had to admit that the idea was just marvelous and the effect totally worked out.
As Aeneas we heard british baritone Benedict Nelson who I personally liked the least. He sang well but I often wished that his singing would be clearer. It was not because of his voice, more a matter of style. I thought Purcell calls for clarity and pure tone. Nevertheless he gave a fine performance, I just liked the other soloists more.
Dido was sung by mezzosoprano Kate Lindsey whose voice is very clear and pure. Her singing seemed so natural and honest! Sometimes she sang so gently that you almost had to stop breathing to hear her (and I mean that in the most positive was!!). You could genuinely hear the pain and agony of her character in her singing. Her Lamento was not from this world and almost got me crying. Especially when the four fire bowls went out exactly at the end of the piece.
After all I can say that this probably was the best performance I saw for years!! Everything worked out perfectly together. They relinquished all the opulence and decadence of the late baroque and showed the opera in her real shape: a dramatic piece that displays human emotions and feelings so convincingly that it hits the audience right in their heart. Therefore this performance of Purcell's opera gets full 10 stars (a pity they just played it only once). BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO!!

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