Teatro Real de Madrid 2018-19 Review: Dido and Aeneas

Sascha Waltz Delivers An Immersive Production of Purcell’s Masterwork

By Mauricio Villa

After the performances of Cavalli’s “La Calisto,” the bets were high for the staging of one of the jewels of English composer Henry Purcell – “Dido & Aeneas.”

This production by Sasha Waltz premiered at the Berlin Staatsoper in 2005 and has travelled around the world. Waltz, a German contemporary choreographer and dancer, integrates dance, music, text, sets and costumes to create a powerful show, full of poetic and meaningful images. It is not an opera production with some dance numbers, but instead her conception utilizes all the theatrical elements and disciplines to reinforce  the dramatic impact of the opera. We see dancers on a transparent water tank in the prologue, flying with the use of cables. We see the duplicity of the characters of the opera with dancers creating  a sense of multiple dimensions. The dancers, the choir and the soloist intertwine to create unity on the stage.

The First English Opera

Henry Purcell composed “Dido & Aeneas” for the Josias Priest’s Girls’ School in London in 1689 and is often considered to be the first genuine English opera, as previous works are rated as semi-operas for the use of singing and text. It is an inspiring short work, divided in brief scenes with a clear exposition of the plot.

Purcell followed the style of the English music theatre from the 17th century but incorporated influences from French and Italian compositions. Waltz’s choreography suits Purcell’s music, strengthening its dramatic meaning not only during the properly written dance scenes but throughout the whole piece.

Extraordinary the work of the whole company, the twelve dancers, the choir and the soloist singers. It is incredible how the singers dance; Dancing is not just moving with music, but moving with dramatic intention, style, projection, plasticity and the cast who performed Dido & Eaneas at Teatro Real succeed in this quest.

A Delicate & Sensible Approach

The Swiss mezzo Marie-Claude Chappuis performed the lead role of Dido with a delicate sensible approach. She has to sing of the most famous pages of the opera repertoire, “When I am laid in earth,” surnamed Dido’s lament. Her interepretation featured a tender voice and flowing legato.

Nikolay Borchev, who had just been seen in “La Calisto” at Teatro Real, was the hero Aeneas. This Russian baritone is a specialist in Mozart and baroque repertoire and possesses a sweet timbre, total control of the breath and clever use of the dynamics. He was fully dedicated to the arduous task of lifting and manipulating dancers during his first appearance as well as dancing a short pas de deux with Dido. There was also impeccable work from Aphrodite Patoulidou as a sweet Belinda and Ziad Nehme as the witch/ sailor.

Maestro Christopher Moulds gave an extraordinary reading alongside the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. His music-making was tremendously sensitive to the singers, never overpowering them and always intent on letting them lead the line. There was joy and energy in the orchestral playing throughout, giving the dance numbers greater vitality.

One must also commend the 12 dancers, who undoubtedly are the soul of this production and who are devoted to the piece from beginning to end.

This performance of “Dido & Aeneas” was remarkable in every possible way. The visual qualities coalesced beautifully with the vocal performances and music-making all around.


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