But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams... So begins Deborah Warner’s captivating 2008 production of Purcell’s timeless opera Dido and Æneas: a careful warning that suits the tragic story only too well. Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman as a disarming Dido is at the head of a stellar cast joined by Les Arts Florissants under William Christie’s direction.
The Roman poet Virgil was the first to lay down in detail the tragic tale of the Phoenician princess turned queen of Carthage, whose desperate love led to an untimely end. Renaissance artists later transformed her compelling story, with Dido lamented as the archetype of the woman betrayed. Heroine of no fewer than fourteen operas, it is Purcell's Dido incarnation in the 1689 Dido and Æneas that remains the crowning jewel among them. Following a prologue (now lost), the three-act opera lasts less than an hour, but contains some of the composer's most breathtaking music, including the unforgettable "When I am laid in earth," often simply known as "Dido's Lament".
Deborah Warner's Dido draws on accounts (debated by some) of the opera's premiere taking place in an all-girls school near London, incorporating Greek chorus-like school girls into the production. Against the backdrop of Chloé Obolensky's darkly glittering sets and luscious baroque-style costumes, the girls' light-hearted, pixie-ish presence contrasts well with Dido's sorrow and the sorceress's evil machinations. Purcell's music is performed with great care and delicacy by singers and instrumentalists alike, weaving the complex emotional tapestry that animates this tragic allegory of trust, love, and deception.
Photo: © Elisabeth Carecchio
With Il Pomo d'oro, under the direction of Maxim Emelyanychev
Teodor Currentzis (conductor), Peter Sellars (stage director) – Julia Bullock (Doña Luisa), Nadine Koutcher (Doña Isabel) – Teatro Real Madrid