Review: ‘Dido and Aeneas’, Sydney Festival

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Dido and Aeneas,

Sasha Waltz and Guests, Vocal Consort Berlin, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin,

Sydney Festival,

Lyric theatre, Pyrmont, Sydney; January 16th, 2014.

The production of Dido and Aeneas by Sasha Waltz and Guests, presented by the Sydney Festival  is an abstraction of the opera by Purcell.  Movement and singing are equal partners in this offering which takes the Gesamtkunstwerk (a synthesis of the arts) to a new level. The idea is laudable – but did it work?

The ubiquitous water tank sat silently on stage as the audience filed in. It seemed smaller and uglier than the soft-focus images draped around Sydney at present. For something that features so heavily in the promotional material, its time on stage was surprisingly brief and confusing – an industrial strength representation of aquatic travel and a beach for an audience incapable of seeing it their mind’s eye? It’s removal was intrusive and interrupted the flow of the action.

Sasha Waltz’s production casts singers and dancers together in each role; the dance moves illustrating the narratives of the singers. Innovation is healthy when it enhances. To improve on Purcell’s perfection, the re-imagining has to be very powerful indeed.

Much of the production was hard to understand – literally and conceptually. The spoken words, which seemed to move into other languages at times, the costuming, and scenes like the lesson in deportment, which prompted one anguished audience member to call out “But what has it got to do with the opera, tell me?” After all it was titled Dido and Aeneas. For those who did not know the libretto or the synopsis, there were no surtitles, which would also have gone a long way to explaining the movements which paralleled the singing. The acoustic of the Lyric Theatre, more commonly a venue for music theatre, was not kind to the fragility of Baroque voices and instruments.

The dances were well executed although some of the choreography looked ungainly and the length of some sequences seemed indulgent leading to a loss of focus.Rather than the exhaustive bios on 21 performers in the programme, the full libretto with an outline of the accompanying dance movements would have elucidated a great deal.

The most laudable aspect of the show came from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the Vocal Consort Berlin conducted by Christopher Moulds. Mezzo-soprano Aurore Ugolin as Dido and her alter-egos, dancers Yael Schnell and Michal Mualem gave strong performances, as did Reuben Willcox as Aeneas and dancer Virgis Puodziunas and soprano Deborah York as Belinda.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©



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