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Dido and Æneas recorded by Le Poème Harmonique, with Vincent Dumestre conducting a period band with an astonishing power of emotion and subtle blend of vocal and instrumental timbres. The set evokes 17th-century stage effects, with ever-present blue silk waves which undulate seductively, then threateningly and finally fatally as they take Dido to her death.

Dido is the Alaskan mezzo Vivica Genaux, flawless apart from a lip-wobble that seems to be part of her vibrato technique. From the beginning she projects the doom that awaits her: momentary happiness with the flighty Aeneas is all she can expect. Aeneas is splendidly sung by Dutch baritone Henk Neven, but the role of the Sorceress is taken with even more flair by baritone Marc Mauillon, dressed as an octopus with alarmingly mobile tentacles, and commanding a troupe of red-eyed spiders and a pair of long-tailed mermaids, the first and second witches.

Acrobatics are used freely, with the Spirit (or a spirit-double) performing on trapeze, and there is a good deal of frolicking in the waves by the mermaids and other sea-monsters. Dido’s lament is heart-breaking, as it should be, with some daring rubato against the rock-steady falling bass ostinato figure. The whole production is well directed by its designers, Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek.

Simon Rees Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing