Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Sarah Connolly (and others), OAE, directed by Steven Devine & Elizabeth Kenny

Chandos CHAN0757

Chandos' featured release is a new recording of the first English operatic masterpiece, Purcell’s tragedy Dido and Aeneas. Starring Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley, with the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, it is released to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth.

Directed from the keyboard by Steven Devine and Elizabeth Kenny as in recent concert performances, the ensemble presents the opera in a version that incorporates other dance works by Purcell.

There have been two revolutions in scholarly thinking about Dido and Aeneas and both had serious implications for historically inclined performers, and demand a creative response today. The musicological backdrop to this recording results in a performance closer to the court entertainment of Purcell's day, in which musical dramas evolved from the English theatre tradition.

Sarah Connolly, the quintessential Dido of the early twenty-first century, has been the driving force behind this recording. She writes of the project, "It seems I have known Purcell’s Dido all my life and feel able to express myself in this music like no other… As a character, Dido fascinates me to the point of obsession".

Connolly has performed with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on many occasions, including two productions at Glyndebourne – Giulio Cesare and St Matthew Passion – as well as Dido and Aeneas at the Proms, the South Bank Centre and Tetbury Festival. One recent review of Connolly’s Dido had the following to say: "It was the sheer depth of emotion Connolly infused in her portrayal of Dido that was truly remarkable. Emotion flowed off the stage from the intensity in her voice and through her actions. Her final aria, one of the most beautiful in English baroque music, brought a tear to the eye in a hall so quiet you could hear a pin drop.. a moving portrayal of this tragic heroine" (MusicalCriticism.com).

This impressive performance by an extraordinary group of musicians makes for a significant addition to the catalogue.

Reviews

"The care and love that has gone into this recording shines out from the very first notes...All the cast, made of some of the finest British early music talent of our time, deliver the text brilliantly - not a word misses its mark, This is a definitive Dido and Aeneas, deserving of the highest praise." Ashutosh Khandekar / Early Music Today - August/September 2009

Played with poise and clarity that we have come to expect of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this is a beautiful performance. Opera Now

From the outset, Connolly exudes imposing presence, pathos and unassailable dignity; her Act III Lament consummates a deeply-felt empathy with the role… Purcell year will doubtless bring a crop of highly cherishable performances; Connolly's Dido already sets the bar decidedly high. BBC Music Magazine 'Choice'

Here is England's first great opera presented with a truly cohesive sense of theatrical purpose, one which unusually allows the drama to unfold in a close identification with each of the cameo characters... we have a supremely wide-ranging, tragic and experienced queen from the start, inhabiting the shadows of 'Ah! Belinda' with early signs of deplorable fate, which are accentuated by an extended symphony luxuriating poignantly on this resonating conceit... Lucy Crow's Belinda is a splendid foil for Connolly's self-absorption, with her astute and increasingly desperate buoying up. Gramophone Editor's Choice

There are many recordings of Dido and Aeneas, and I am convinced that this one must rank among the finest. Sarah Connolly assembled the cast and played a major part in the artistic decisions, including the insertion of pieces of additional music. She brings to the role of Dido a regal gravity that is indispensable for a convincing portrayal... The success or failure of a performance of Dido can depend on the celebrated lament. Here Sarah Connolly takes a very slow tempo, but the dramatic tension and musical direction are never in jeopardy. It is an exquisitely eloquent reading. American Record Guide