from Dido and Aeneas.
The New York Times reviewer:
Purcell's Evocation Of Doomed Love
...a production, made for the BBC and WNET, of Henry Purcell's only opera, ''Dido and Aeneas.''
Born in London in 1659, Purcell was an odd one. He progressed from boy singer to organ tuner to chief organist at Westminster Abbey. After some hanky-panky about charging admission to the great-organ loft, Purcell was dismissed, but when he died, at the age of 36, his body was interred at the Abbey with great fanfare. The ''Oxford Companion to Music'' says bluntly, ''His early death must ever be regarded as a national calamity.''
With a libretto by Nahum Tate, England's poet laureate at the time, ''Dido and Aeneas'' is being touted for this production as ''the first truly great opera composed by an Englishman.'' Let's not quibble. It is indeed a fascinating composition and is given a seductive reading by outstanding soloists working with the Collegium Musicum 90 orchestra and chorus conducted by Richard Hickox, a specialist in early music.
Marking last year's 300th anniversary of Purcell's death, the opera was filmed in and around Hampton Court, the palace on the Thames built for Henry VIII in the early 16th century. Peter Maniura, the director, seems to have nurtured his mythological visions on films like Jean Cocteau's ''Orpheus'' (1949). Lots of mirrors, dramatic poses, shooting flames and things like that.
It all works enough, thanks to a sterling company of singers. Maria Ewing's Dido, queen of ancient Carthage, is immensely moving as she realizes the tragic entwinements of her love for Aeneas (''Remember me, but, ah, forget my fate''), the Trojan who ends up in Carthage after the fall of Troy. As Aeneas, the English baritone Karl Daymond is not only strikingly handsome but uncommonly clear in enunciation, being one of the few performers here who doesn't require subtitles for his readings of the English libretto. Rebecca Evans is also impressive as Dido's lady-in-waiting, a central character.
And don't overlook the chorus. Purcell's choral accomplishments are said to have had an important influence on Handel. ''Dido and Aeneas'' succeeds on many unexpected levels.