Dido & Aeneas

October 8, 2016

Project Prima Volta is a Hawke’s Bay creative arts mentoring programme, which each year gives 30 local teenagers from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to work together in the world of vocal performance alongside homegrown and international performers. This was their show, wonderfully presented at the fabulous new Blyth Performing Arts Centre to an enthusiastic audience.

The set and costuming was minimal (Ancient Greek theatre rather than opulent opera), drawing the audience’s full attention to the black-clad, masked chorus and singular characters as Purcell’s tragedy unfolded.

Theatrical highlights for me were the use of the mezzanine encircling the stage when the sorcerer’s treacherous plans are put in force, the incorporation of dance in the sailors’ scene to portray a ship at sea, and the final death scene, which was held so effectively by the hard-working chorus, simple choreography and a nice use of lighting.

It seems unfair to single out individual voices as this was clearly such a collaborative performance, each character part being shared over the two nights’ presentation by different students, and I only have Friday evening to go on. But I was so impressed by the two lead roles, their rich voices and composure, and Friday’s sorcerer was delightful. Some of Purcell’s more complex ranging arias are undoubtedly tricky to nail and I salute the students’ courage, dedication and the musical directorship of all involved.

I thought Dido’s lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’, was beautifully, movingly sung and supported – in such moments it was easy to forget that these are only 15, 16, 17 year olds not consummate performers.

Truly awesome!

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