Wigmore Hall 12th January – Early Opera Company

Early opera Company: Charpantier Acteon and Purcell Dido and Aeneas

Genius will out. Last night the genius of Baroque Opera came out and for those who heard there will be no going back.

Music of the High Baroque had long been neglected before the revival of interest in the second half of the last century…and with that revival came the interest in authentic performance with authentic instruments and using vocal techniques nearer to those of the period. Both these were transformational developments and introduced the music of Blow, Purcell, Lalande, Lully, Charpantier and a host of others to an newly enthralled public.

But even in that context last nights performances were something else. I have rarely seen an audience leave any theatre so buoyed-up by what they heard. It was one of those nights…where great art and great artistry came together to make something utterly sublime.

Acteon was new to me and from the opening chorus held the entire audience for its brief forty minutes. Charpantier manages to give us a story, flamboyantly described in music. These early composers have such fun with texts and textures of speech and rhythms of language. It’s all a brave new world and they explore with panache, vigour and verve… and above all a sense of fun and lightness of touch. And they learn how to grab and hold an audience’s attention with one perfect musical confection after another.

But it would be as nothing if not well sung. And it was so beautifully sung. Claire Booth, Ciara Hendrick, Elizabeth Weisberg, Jeremy Budd and Philip Tebb were flawless…Hilary Summers a suitably imperious Juno and it’s not possible not to employ a superlative to decribe Ed Lyon’s Acteon ( and later both Spirit and Sailor in Dido). It was Lyon’s night in many senses. He has mastered a theatrical style. He has characterful presence. But most deliciously he’s owns a great voice and has mastered a wonderfully rounded technique for this music. As I’m with the artists…I must also mention Marcus Farnsworth who has a rich deep voice full of rich tone and colour. He gave a measured and beautifully crafted account of Aeneas – heroic and warm in equal measure….

Dido and Aeneas is one of those works you hear and love but somehow let slip from regular listening – and the after hearing it again you’re struck by wonder. Purcell composes something so imaginative, stirring, deeply felt and delicately beautiful and moving. It was sung by the company with vocal brilliance….you really had to be there…this epic tale of love found and lost that inspires Virgil was given last night a Homeric rendering. It’s an ensemble piece…the echo chorus one of its endless highlights…the Sorceress another…and with Dido you win love and lose love and with her you cry.

There is so much of structure and characterisation and plot management that these baroque masters master. But perhaps it the chilling and daring harmonies they write lovingly for the voice and instruments… that challenge the ear and beguile the listener.

I said it at the beginning I will repeat it now…this is pure genius and it was purely delivered last night. Early opera has won a permanent place in my affections.

Christian Curnyn who played the harpsichord and conducted like a true baroque maestro has much to be pleased with but more to be proud of…bravo, brava, bravi!!!


I have come late in life to the Wigmore Hall if you’ve never been please go…it a place with a perfect acoustic but also is itself an Art Noveuau gem of purest ray serene…

In the summer Early Opera Company perform Handel’s Rodelinda and even more a rarity Handel’s Susanna. They’ve a recording of Messiah I’ve heard much praised.

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Uploaded by on 9 Mar 2009

“When I am laid, am laid in earth,
May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate”

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