This week St Peter’s Chapel has been transformed into a beautiful, enchanting, Ancient Greece for the production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. For anyone unconvinced about the suitability of a chapel for a staged opera please let me reassure you: the setting was absolutely stunning, and I cannot think of a better place to see this story brought to life. The chapel is cleverly illuminated through the stained glass; a hazy mist effectively recreates the grove; overall, Oliver Tobey’s lighting is one of the most striking elements of the whole show.
But it is Rachel Coll playing Dido who steals the show. Her voice is beautiful, the quality of which is matched by her entirely convincing characterisation. She is elegant and regal, but also not overly serious when she doesn’t need to be – the romance between herself and Sam Adamson’s Aeneas is almost playful. Adamson is almost a match for Coll, but truly comes into his own in the third act. Having shivers down my spine might be a cliché, but his heartbreak was utterly stunning, and really cinched his performance. The two of them were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the lynch pin of the whole show.
Musically, this opera was carried off incredibly well. The acoustics in the chapel are even more impressive than expected, and the voices of the whole ensemble soar. There were a few weaker moments in some of the lesser, named cast, but the musical talent of the group was obvious. It won’t surprise anyone who’s seen the show that such a large percentage of the cast are choral scholars. Obviously Coll and Adamson are amongst those who stand out, but also Lila Chrisp (as one of the witches) and Tom Dixon. The decision to cast the sorcerer – usually a female role – with a counter tenor, was perhaps risky, but certainly paid off. It added a haunting quality to all of his scenes, through stage presence and the musical difference.
Gabriella Noble has not directed an opera before, but her staging was incredibly subtle and intelligent. The ‘Greek chorus’ alternated interaction with the narrative and the background was managed incredibly well. A few transitions were mildly clunky, but this is perhaps inevitable due to the difficulty in the set that exists around the chapel. There were also perhaps moments of too much stasis in parts as well. Despite this though, I think that it was a beautifully refreshing staging – making the story familiar and relevant without modernising it unnecessarily.
If you’ve got fifty five minutes this Friday or Saturday – and frankly, if you haven’t, then make fifty five minutes – please don’t be put off by the word ‘opera’ – this production is refreshing, beautiful, and somehow incredibly intimate (despite the grandeur).
Dido and Aeneus is playing at the St. Peter’s Chapel this Friday and Saturday