April 1, 2009 / 12:01 PM / 8 years ago

Royal opera, ballet unite for Baroque double bill

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - At London’s Covent Garden, members of the prestigious opera and ballet companies share the “royal” tag and a canteen, but usually little else.

Late on Tuesday they shared the main stage in their first major collaboration for around 20 years that celebrated two of Baroque’s leading composers.

In two tales of star-crossed lovers, the companies performed “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell and “Acis and Galatea” by George Frideric Handel. This year marks the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth and the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death.

The double bill was created by the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer Wayne McGregor, with the first work based on a version first performed at Milan’s La Scala in 2006 and the second a new production.

In Dido and Aeneas, based on Virgil’s “Aeneid,” Dido, Queen of Carthage, falls in love with Trojan refugee Aeneas, but the relationship is doomed when Aeneas is forced to leave.

British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly plays Dido in her Royal Opera debut and, despite apologising to the audience in advance for any vocal problems caused by a recent throat infection, won over critics with her performance.

“Connolly is an inimitable Queen of Carthage, regal in tone and bearing,” Barry Millington wrote in London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

But Edward Seckerson of The Independent said the dance element in Dido was little more than “a kind of grouting between scenes” and was “at best incidental, at worst superfluous.”

He argued that the blend between the two disciplines was more successful in Acis and Galatea, a story of pastoral bliss turning sour based on the “Metamorphoses” by Roman poet Ovid.

“This time McGregor found real purpose for his dancers, echoing, mirroring, the star-crossed lovers ... like a physical expression of their innermost desires.”

For the female lead, U.S. soprano Danielle de Niese, Acis and Galatea was also a Covent Garden debut.

“Before I went on ... it hit me like a ton of bricks about 15 minutes before,” she said backstage after the show.

“Suddenly the penny dropped. The importance of it suddenly just came upon me,” she told Reuters. “It’s really such an honor not only to make your role debut and house debut but then to be part of this important landmark (with the ballet).”

Reviews of her performance were mixed.

“De Niese is an incomparable show woman, easily overcoming her ridiculous costume with her inherent glamour, and she sings with surprisingly powerful projection,” wrote Dominic McHugh on classical music review website www.musicalcriticism.com, in an apparent reference to De Niese’s bleach-blond wig.

But the Evening Standard’s Millington said that neither De Niese nor Charles Workman as Acis shone, although Paul Agnew as Damon and Matthew Rose as the giant Polyphemus did.

There are six more performances of the Purcell/Handel double bill between April 3 and 20. Non-box tickets cost from seven to around 170 pounds.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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