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2007 – H. Purcell opera Dido and Aeneas

2007 – H. Purcell opera Dido and Aeneas

Opera for girls’ schools

The music of England is unfamiliar to most of the Ukrainian people. This is true both for works by living composers and for examples of high classics. Continental Europe has always been rather behind in following the British music developments. That is why the performance of the works by the English composer Henry Purcell has always been a highlight.

One of them took place at the Kyiv Philharmonic, where a concert version of Dido and Aeneas opera, one of the most interesting works of the great British composer, was performed.

Henry Purcell lived for only 36 years, but left to the future generations a great number of works of all genres of the 17th century. His work was dominated by church music, ceremonial odes, secular songs and theatre music. Purcell wrote the music for around fifty theatrical productions, and by the end of his life he preferred the genre of semi-opera, in which the recitative text takes about the same time as the music part. Dido and Aeneas is his only genuine opera, written in 1689 for the young gentlewomen of a boarding school. The music is deliberately chamber and Aeneas is the only male character, to make it easier for the boarding school girls to play the roles.

For its concert performance, the conductor Roman Kofman worked with the Kyiv Chamber Orchestra and the Credo Chamber Choir, based on the Benjamin Britten’s edition of Dido and Aeneas. Solo female parts were performed by seven young Ukrainian singers, the most prominent of them being Olga Tabulina (Dido), Yelyzaveta Lipityuk (Belinda) and Iryna Zhytynska (the witch). The role of Aeneas, which does not go beyond a short aria and four ensemble scenes, was given to baritone Andrei Bondarenko.

As a whole, the performance of the opera can be described as successful, despite the asceticism of the concert incarnation. The stage setting consisted of small multi-level box platforms in draperies and a couple of chairs. The small string orchestra and the choir encircled the stage. Even the affectation of the singing of all the ensemble members can be justified: a one-hour long opera without any signs of plot development that could be perceived by modern listeners and without any central love duet sometimes requires exactly such performing manner. Besides, Britten, who edited Purcell’s works, tended to overuse external effects, adding some roughness to his compositions.


The direction of the ending was the most successful: after Dido’s last aria, When I am laid in Earth, the choir singers cover the heroine with a white silk veil and take turns to throw red and orange rose petals over her, which symbolizes fire; then they freeze around her deathbed, forming a kind of sculptural group. This scene required making the final choral, With drooping winds ye cupids come, longer. The audience loved it.

Author: Vladimir Lozovoy.
The Economic News, No. 33 (566), 26 February 2007