Dido and Aeneas and Gianni Schicchi

Mar 2 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Remarkable and ★★★☆☆    Interesting

Assembly Roxy: Tue 27 Feb – Sat 3 Mar 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh Studio Opera’s unique presentation of the pairing of one act operas Dido and Aeneas and Gianni Schicchi provides for some thrilling moments of operatic pleasure at the Roxy to Saturday.

ESO and director Robert Hersey bring a whole new aspect to both operas by staging them traverse style, with the orchestra at one end of the performance space and the singers performing in a stretched-out playing area between two banks of seats.

Freya Holliman and Sally Carr. Pic: Andrew Perry

When it works, as it most certainly does with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, this staging format allows the audience to get as close as it is possible to get to the singers.

Sitting in the front row is thoroughly recommended for those who like the volume turned up to 11. When the lusciously-voiced Freya Holliman as Dido and Sally Carr as her lover Belinda are letting it rip just feet from where you are sitting this is properly spine-tingling stuff.

One of the reasons it works so well is that Purcell’s music is quite sparse in tone, leaving plenty of space for the voices to work over the top. And William Conway’s crisp orchestra never drowns out the voices or gets in the way of what is being sung.

The format is less forgiving to Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, which has a much fuller score. It is dense and rounded in way that does not forgive a less forceful voice. And while there are no problems over the direction the singers are facing in Dido, in Gianni, if they are not facing you, the balance can be difficult.

adds spice

It’s not just the physical pleasure of proximity due to the staging which adds spice to the whole production. It’s Hersey’s updating of both to 1950s Italy and a strong reconstruction of the plot of Dido and Aeneas, although Gianni Schicchi is more faithful to the original telling.

Freya Holliman and the chorus of Dido and Aeneas. Pic: Andrew Perry

Set in a film studio, Dido is a no queen of Carthage, but a glamorous movie star who is having second thoughts about her clandestine love affair with Belinda – her sister and handmaid in the original.

It’s a great change of emphasis, which allows the drama of the piece to flow very well. Aeneas is now another movie star, completely full of himself. His relationship with Dido is obviously driven by the studio rather than any true feelings.

Holliman and Carr provide a believably solid bedrock for the affair. Johannes Moore is not only a strongly articulate singer, but his Aeneas is a brilliantly realised slime ball.

The chorus – various movie fans, studio secretaries and paparazzi – fit into the retelling nicely with costume designer Sarah McClintock excelling in her sourcing of suitably amazing dresses for them.

consistently thrilling

Even the arrival of Moorea Corrigan as the Sorceress seems to fit logically into proceedings, taking up the cause of the scorned Belinda. Corrigan and witches Alexandra Elvidge and Alexandra Maliphant, give real texture to the portrayal of darkness, with the chorus all turning into hideous demons to do their bidding.

Buoso’s family in Gianni Schicchi. Pic: Andrew Perry

It’s consistently thrilling stuff, with bacchanalian cavorting and Aeneas’s abuse of privilege particularly well portrayed.

The link into Gianni Schicchi is perhaps more tenuous than it might be – the cast appear to witness Dido and Belinda’s death in each other’s arms. But the opera itself is told with the necessary level of comedy to underline the strength of its critique of greed and pride.

It’s a complicated little plot, about the family of rich merchant Buoso who dies leaving everything to the monastery. His nephew, having got a promise that he can marry Lauretta, daughter or newcomer Gianni Schicchi, persuades Schicchi to help them.

thoroughly devious

Johannes Moore is superb, again, returning in the title role. He creates a thoroughly devious character, but there is clearly a morality underneath of the kind which the upper-crust family don’t possess.

Kenneth Reid gives a clear acting performance as Rinuccio, and is clear of voice but is somewhat undone by the strength of the orchestra. Serena Linley-Adams as Lauretta gets the piece’s best known number, O mio babbino caro (oh my beloved father), and does it full justice.

The greedy family are all given strong comic caricatures by a cast who are consistently clear in this rare performance in English, rather than the original Italian.

Running time: two hours and 20 minues (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Tuesday 27/Wednesday 28 February, Friday 2/Saturday 3 March 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and information: www.assemblyroxy.com
Facebook event page: www.facebook.com

Edinburgh Studio Opera website: www.edinburghstudioopera.org.
Facebook: @EdinburghStudioOpera.
Twitter: @EdStudioOpera.

Read our interview with director Robert Hersey here: ESO Falls for Fellini.


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