PROM 7: PURCELL’S DIDO AND AENEAS | London, Royal Albert Hall

This late-night Prom provided a magnificent showcase for La Nuova Musica, in their BBC Proms debut. Led by founder and artistic director David Bates — who has an over-articulated conducting style that is magnetic to watch — the vocal and instrumental ensemble strives to reveal new aspects of familiar masterpieces from the Baroque and Classical periods.

Henry Purcell’s one-hour opera, based on Queen Dido’s suicide in Virgil’s Aeneid, has become an opera classic. Once performed at a girls’ boarding school in 1689, the opera is now famous for Dido’s lament, “When I am Laid in Earth”, sung in a brilliant, stalwart soprano here by Alice Coote.

Stealing thunder from the lovesick queen, the star of the show was La Nuova Musica’s vocal ensemble, and Bates’ conducting of the choruses. All singers were off-book, with a crystal clear, energised sound, rarely heard in Baroque music. As for the ensemble, the use of organ, two harpsichords, four differently-shaped theorbos, and two harps (!) seemed a little unnecessary, and a little swamped in the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall. But moments of Spanish-like ensemble strumming did bring out the score’s infectious rhythms.

Mention must be made of the sailors’ topless trio, with choreography worthy of any golden-age musical tap break, eliciting showstopping laughter and applause from the audience. In all, this was a meticulously rehearsed opera: one almost had the impression that Bates had put his own editing markings over each and every note of the score, staring wildly at his ensemble to make sure they followed them. Now, with such a success under his belt, perhaps Bates can chill out a bit more next time.

Tickets for all 72 Proms are available from just £7.12 on the BBC Proms 2022 website.

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