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Siberian Dido

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Rick Jones Rick Jones | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009

paris_opera_metro_entrance.jpgA copy of a new recording of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas lands on the mat. It comes from Siberia. Who'd have thought our man would one day reach the foothills of the Himalayas? It is the 2007 production staged at the Opera Theatre, Novosibirsk, conducted by Greek maestro Teodor Currentzis. The New Siberian Singers form the chorus and sing robustly even a little robotically at times and with heavily distorted diction. They use a vowel I've never heard before on 'shady'. The sailors sound like a crew of mercenaries and their dance stamps heavily as if they were wearing clogs not deck shoes.

Still, they are hugely enthusiastic and not without charm.
The Siberian band, Musica Aeterna', plays with authentic sighs and ornaments and very emphatic accents in the spiky dances. The bass-line is a throbbing engine in the thrilling overture. The 'Gitter Dance' (guitar, of course) is rhythmically flabby, a little out of tune, but with an intriguing plucked solo over the ground bass. The sleeve makes a point of thanking the director of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Society for the loan of his harpsichord.
The principals are international. German soprano Simone Kermes sings Dido with pure, slender tone imbued with tragedy. She sings the lament slowly, insiting on patience, and never overdoes the climax notes. She seems to carry around with her a sense of silent majesty. Not so English soprano Deborah York as Belinda. She sounds a silver-voiced PR as she ushers, instructs and organises on her doomed queen's behalf. Strangely she too sings on slightly mangled vowels as if not wishing to show up her hosts. Greek baritone Dimitris Tiliakos is a smooth Aeneas, never totally convincing that he is either much of a general or willing to stay with Dido. The Ukrainian male soprano Oleg Ryabets as the Sorceress has a tendency to squawk. Kindness suggests he is method-acting.

The overall performance has pace and shape with all energy focused on Dido's final 'remember me'. One is flattered on Purcell's behalf to know that this last plea is being heeded even as the plains of central Asia peter out.

Meanwhile the pianist James Rhodes has agreed to accompany me singing Purcell's Oh Solitude on Shakespeare's Birthday in Southwark Cathedral. We ran through it yesterday in a practice room at Steinway Hall. He told his manager I sing like a twelve-year-old girl. It is the best critique I've had since a down-and-out at the Paris Opera (metro station) told me I sang like an angel. I used to make a fortune busking.

Rhodes' CD is called Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos because he was once a substance abuser. Piano-playing rescued him. The depths of his travails and the gritty determination he has showed in his recovery come through in a powerful account of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. The furnace of Romantic passion that now consumes him romps like a bush fire through Chopin's autobiographical Ballade No4. Crisp, stern brevity informs his handling of Beethoven's two-movement Op90 Piano Sonata in E minor. Sensitivity and thunder are his hallmarks. Oh and an innate feel for the lightness in the Baroque dance movements of Bach's French Suite No5. A natural Purcellian then.

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