Thursday, 2 April 2009

Acis, Galatea, Dido and Aeneas

Melanie Eskenazi in inimitable, lively form on the Royal Opera Royal Ballet double bill :

" “Dido and Aeneas” remains Purcell’s most often performed and subtly influential work – would we have had Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia” without it? .....

"To convey the spirit of his mixture of tragic nobility and almost comical malevolence the ideal cast would be made up entirely of genuine baroque specialists, in which the UK is exceptionally rich. Well, I suppose three out of nine isn’t too bad, and it beats the one out of five offered in “Acis and Galatea”.

Wayne McGregor’s austerely beautiful production was first seen at La Scala in 2006, and it looks ravishing in Hildegard Bechtler’s designs – McGregor keeps things nobly simple, as is right for the piece, and the starkness of the surroundings, even in the hunting scene, forms an appropriate backdrop for the tragedy. I found the dancing hard to get used to: attuned to expecting something rather more ‘pastoral, the steps did not quite mesh with the sentiments.

"I felt the same about the dancing in “Acis and Galatea” until I realised how deeply the production was influenced by Lucas Cranach’s iconic painting of “The Golden Age” (1530) where naked figures dance with angular movements around a Golden Apple Tree, “…two and two, necessary coniunctuion / Holding eche other by the hand or the arm / Which betokeneth concorde” (Elyot / Eliot). It was still a little disquieting to find ‘Oh! The Pleasures of the Plains!’ accompanied by what at first looked like an aerobics class, but I became attuned to it after a while and was able to savour some very graceful dancing, especially from Eric Underwood and Edward Watson."

"We were once more in the world of singers for whom the baroque is not really their bread and butter, with the notable exception of Paul Agnew, another (absurdly late) house debutant, who completely outshone everyone else with his gravely sensitive ‘Voice of 18th-century Reason’ of a Damon – not for the first time with this singer, he showed the rest how it should be done."

If anyone can carry off a ludicrous wig and an absurd costume it is the gorgeous Danielle de Niese, and she has the opulent voice to match her looks – the trouble is, it’s just not a very Handelian one, with its rapid vibrato and tendency towards swooping into phrases. As with her Acis, though, she knows how to make you believe in her character, and ‘Heart, thou Seat of soft Delight’ had ravishing moments."

PLEASE NOTE : in January I'm reviewing Katie Mitchell's book on directing.

Read the whole longer piece (it's very perceptive, pulls no punches but warm hearted) here :

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