"Before Bach": A Best Case Performance of Purcell's Dido

04.16.15
Les Violons du Roy
Musical America

The first half of Sunday's program was devoted to music from two of Purcell's plays-with-music, "semi-operas," The Fairy Queen and King Arthur, works difficult to revive, consisting of much tedious verse and expensive "effects" with Purcellian song or dance. Purcell seems to have known Lully's operas for the French court, where dance was rated as highly as song, and conductor Richard Egarr clearly had lively baroque dances in mind all afternoon in the rhythmic snap he provided, for example, in the "Dance for the Fairies" and the "Monkey's Dance."

Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus san The Fairy Queen's Drunken Poet, who must imply both halves of his nature with slurred leaps from basso depth to tenorial height and back, unsteadily, down. His voice and his body language went riotously amok with two teasing fairies, Lesley Emma Bouza and Sheila Dietrich. Dorothea Röschmann, the afternoon's prima donna, sang "O let me weep" with swelling tones and delicate sighs, an air in a mood very similar to Dido's lament, fading deliciously away in lullaby. The German diva, who sings Mozart everywhere, never overpowered this earlier, lighter music, though hers was the voice best suited to the size of Carnegie Hall. She did not hold back in the suggestion of tragedy.    
On the dark side, Vicki St. Pierre, a mezzo with a demonic red faux Mohawk, conquered the stage as the wicked Sorceress, spitting out precise and eldritch syllables of contempt and delight. You couldn't take your eyes or ears away from her: This is how to chew the scenery in a concert performance. Misses Bouza and Dietrich assister her conjuring, and countertenor Daniel Cabena, flute-like and otherworldly, sang the spirit they raised.