Review: Dido and Aeneas

Jiameng Gao 25 February 2013

I’ve never been to an opera before; the closest I’ve come is being in possession of four copies of Verdi’s Requiem. Despite thinking this might be somewhat problematic, I needn’t have worried as the Cambridge University Opera Society, in conjunction with MagSoc, brought together a brilliant and easily accessible performance of Dido and Aeneas (as long as you paid 50p for the programme in order to know what was actually being sung.) Set within Queens’ College Chapel, the performance was well attended, though by more senior members of the public than students. This was a shame as the performance was quite wonderful.

Purcell’s opera tells the tragedy of the titular couple – Dido and Aeneas – and according to a crash-course on Wikipedia is an allegory of the abandonment of Britain by King James II/VII. All four major characters were excellent throughout the piece; Kathryn Collar’s powerful voice reverberated throughout the chapel, Elliot Fitzgerald in the role of Aeneas showed sincere lament and Pat Dunachie as the Sorceress was astoundingly impressive. The light chamber orchestra was also wonderfully conducted by Karol Jaworski.

The use of a college chapel gave the production a great atmosphere, however ornamental obstacles around the seating area made viewing the opera somewhat of a challenge. Other aspects of the sizable chapel (everything looks big when you go to Peterhouse) were put to good use: sounds of thunder rumbled from the organ balcony, and the aisle of the chapel was used for characters entering and leaving, making the performance feel more personal.

The emphasis of this production was clearly on sound, and the characters were only thematically dressed, wearing white/black shirts with black trousers/dresses with props, such as a spear and a wolf head, which didn’t exactly conjoin perfectly with them. Needless to say, these issues didn’t take anything away at all from the performance, which was thoroughly enjoyable and terrifically performed.

Jiameng Gao