Vancouver Symphony

Bach and Purcell

Dates 31 March and 1 April  2006 at 8 pm Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

J. S. Bach "Orchestral Suite No. 1 on C major, BWV 1066  Henry Purcell  Dido and Aeneas

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Cast Susan Platts, Nathaniel West, UBC Opera Ensemble

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

A live performance of Dido and Aeneas is always a much-anticipated pleasure and Bramwell Tovey's rich and emotional reading was undeniably satisfying.

The background to the story derives from Virgil's Aeneid and was as well known as a school textbook to Purcell's audience. The hero, Aeneas, fleeing the destruction of Troy in which his wife has perished, searches the Mediterranean for the place Destiny has decreed he will found a new city. When he lands in Carthage and falls in love with Queen Dido, and she with him, the gods realize they must interfere or Rome will never be built. Human tragedy ensues.

Susan Platts'  warm, dramatic voice embodied Dido with  regal intelligence and wide-open emotional vulnerability, the dynamic ranging from full-throated passion to a pianissimo that dropped tears of sadness.

The supporting role of Belinda offers less range of emotion but Jennifer Farrel used an assured technique and a strong voice to explore the depth of her care and affection for her best friend. She was in turn most ably supported by Jessica Bowes as the Second Woman.

Nathaniel Watson brought a surprisingly cocky insousiance to the unsympathetic role of Aeneas. By contrast, his few lines of distress, "But with more ease could die" and "What shall lost Aeneas do" were almost heart-rending. The schmuck really cared.

Rose-Ellen Nichols has a voice that is lovely and warm, and she handled Purcell's music well, but despite a strong stage presence, she is not as commanding a singer as the Sorceress must be. The other two witches (Amy LaFroy and Alison Temple) revelled in their wickedness, singing with gusto.  John Arsenault made a jolly sailor.

The role of the chorus is to be both commentary on the action and participant in it. The UBC Opera Ensemble threw itself whole-heartedly into its part, now urging Dido to give way to her feelings for Aeneas, now gloating with the witches at her destruction.  The Ensemble sang with wonderful energy and no less accuracy. The changes of mood were handled with aplomb.

There were also some additional pleasures to embellish the evening. The diction was excellent, the pacing varied, everyone, whether soloist, chorus or strings was engaged with the music and the action. If the hall was tuned for clarity and a just balance of sound, then it succeeded.

It was unfortunate that successful balance was not achieved in the opening piece, Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1. While each line could often be heard clearly, the basses boomed, the winds were nasal and forte was too loud for this reviewer. This was a pity, since the dialogue between strings and winds so characteristic of this piece was lively and the change of tempi in the dances well contrasted. The Forlane in particular was a delight.

© 2006 Elizabeth Paterson