Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dido and Aeneas for history

Dido and Aeneas, Opéra Comique in Paris, March 5 2012

Deborah Warner ..... Director
William Christie ..... Conductor

Malena Ernman ..... Dido
Nikolay Borchev ..... Aeneas
Judith Van Wanroij ..... Belinda
Hilary Summers ..... Sorceress
Lina Markeby ..... Second Woman
Céline Ricci ..... First Witch
Ana Quintans ..... Second Witch
Marc Mauillon ..... Spirit
Ben Davies ..... Sailor

Fiona Shaw ..... Prologue
Orchestre et chœur Les Arts Florissants

I honestly believe this is the most beautiful show that can possibly be created. The singers/actors, the orchestra, conductor, the best possible direction that makes the Shakespearean theater vibrate with the public in a totally modern way, yet subtly emphasizing the universal emotion personified in Dido. Deborah Warner shows here once again that she is an outstanding artist, a woman with a heart deeper than the ocean, and ability to dig deep into the most subtle parts of human emotions to tenderly talk to our subconsciousness.

Another essential ingredient in this unforgettable production is Les Arts Florissants and his greatness William Christie who soothly took us through this magnificent score, and made the emotional tide hit us --the lucky thousand in the auditorium-- big.

Where do I begin?! I believe I've bought at least 7 copies of the DVD of this production so far and offered them to various people who I thought would have the sensibility to live intensely the most magical moment that theater and music can possibly deliver together.

I also believe this production should be shown to high school kids: it's short enough that the intensity of the story and the music remains high for the whole duration of the show, and --as a person-- one feels richer, better man, after watching it.
 It tickles the finest emotions in all of us, but not in a trivial or vulgar way (i.e. the opposite of verismo and sometimes a Puccinian style). Deborah Warner found a right formula how to tear the mythological side of the story and bring Dido and Aeneas close to public, but not pretending they are everyday characters today.
They [Dido and Aeneas] are indeed in historical costumes. The people of Chartage instead are dressed like us today. They are spectators, and they are concerned with what goes on on the stage.
To give it extra-life Deborah lets dozens of primary school girls in uniforms joyfully flood the stage. That idea is not just a reference to the first performance of the Purcell's opera [at the girls' school in Chelsea 1688]. It underlines the universal value of the story: it matters to all of us -- men, women, children...  It's about the statement that life without love is not worth it and that even a short moment of intense love is worth all the sacrifice that it might entail.

Everyone can identify with Dido. It is that irrational moment that most of us experienced at least once in life. Dido chose to give herself to love even though she knew its tragic ending was inexorable.  She made a choice. She knew that her love is not only about her, that the people of Chartage is involved too. Was her abandonment to Aeneas irresponsible? Maybe, but could anyone blame her for choosing love?!  Who can resist the pain and feel his heart squeezed while watching Malena Ernman falling dead in the end?! In a deadly silence of the Opéra Comique auditorium there was just Christie capable of moving, superb Judith Van Wanroij and Lina Markeby weeping after their dead queen, and the spontaneous sobs from the crowd.

Yes, this DVD is absolutely a must see -- but softly and when in appropriate mood. Do not take it and watch as if it were a TV show! No, it's not TV. It's theater! Theater married with music and works in a way to tickle you subconscious-self. To manage to do that Deborah Warner asked wonderful Fiona Show to tell the prologue. And from there on the show evolves and you could tell your brain and your heart open up to whatever comes after, and culminated with the Dido's lament. This kind of live theatrical and operatic experience is the reason why theater will never be superseded by TV or film.
I guess we should all thank Stéphane Lissner who first proposed Deborah Warner to direct this opera for the Wiener Festwochen. By the time it came to Opéra Comique in Paris and in Amsterdam, everyone who could see the show was already enchanted. Now the revival was absolutely divine. The cast is not exactly the same as in the first run at Opéra Comique a couple of years ago. Chris Maltman had other commitments and it's too bad for him ;) This time in the role of Aeneas was Nikolay Borchev, a terrific baritone that we could see many times at the BSO in Munich. His Aeneas was  Maltmanesque -- which means, brilliant! Four women are just mindblowing. Lina Markeby --whose Sesto in Reims we tenderly loved-- always have the right color of voice, and a posture from medieval  paintings. Judith Van Wanroij is a superb singer and an extraordinary interpreter. The nuances she gives to her singing are extraordinary. And Malena... ah Malena! I always say that Malena is the best entertainer in business, the wittiest singer around, but here is proof that she's one of the greatest vocal artists ever. This amount of talent is unprecedented. Every role she takes becomes a work of art. She brings depth both vocally and scenically to every character she incarnates!

One more reason why this works so strongly on us is that the slow & highly emotional parts are separated by the episode with Sorceress, wonderfully interpreted by Hilary Summers. That not only kills the lacrimosa character of the show that you wouldn't like to see developed, but also makes the whole hour like an emotional rollercoaster. In the end there was a standing ovation --which is very rare for Paris!-- and an explosion of "Bravo!"s,  a kind that you can only experience in France or in Spain.

To top the tragic ending of this extraordinary show, I forgot my camera, so I'll only give you just several production photos [ © Elisabeth Carecchio], and a few videos.

[JFYI, Deborah Warner is preparing a new production of La Traviata for the Wiener Festwochen, to be premiered next May 27]

Lina Markeby, Judith Van Wanroij and  Malena Ernman


  1. Opera Cake, my feed into your blog seems to be working only sporadically. Do you think deleting and re-inserting the link might help?

  2. I did what you asked. Hopefully if will be better now. Cheers

  3. Thanks! We'll see. yours feeds into mine just fine.

  4. So far so good. Next will be Poppea in Lille.

  5. Lucky you! Sonya Yoncheva will be wonderful as usual.
    I'm gonna have to skip that one. I plan to see the Warlikowski show in Madrid in June. Cheers

  6. Can you tell me if there will be anymore renditions of this opera in the paris area within this year?