Dido & Aeneas - Les Arts Florissants / Christie Barbican, 10 October 2009
The blonde with the bulging biceps may look like a former DDR swim champ, but actually she is Malena Ernman, Sweden's Eurovision princess (yus really!) and Queen of Carthage for one night at the Barbican.
She won't be taking Sarah Connolly's crown any time soon though. Her Dido, in fact the show as a whole, was too tongue-in-cheek for that. But the semi-staged semi-spectacular, mimed out in evening dress with the mini-orchestra behind, sweetly hit a spot due south of pious reverence without ever getting too silly.
This was an adaptation of a fully staged version that William Christie and his Arts Florissants have been touting around Europe. Practice has made perfect. The remarkable chorus were precise and expressive despite being out of conducting view - proof that a clear beat is not everything. And their immaculate yet not over-clipped diction (even more impressive considering most of them are Frenchies) would put British choruses to shame.
In contrast to the Royal Opera House's patchy recent offering, there were no weak links in the cast. Even the token bloke, Luca Pisaroni as Aeneas, made the most of his none too ingratiating part. Judith Van Wanroij was a charmingly spirited and pure-voiced Belinda, and Hilary Summers' shockingly deep, dark voice compensated for an oversized helping of ham as the Sorceress.
Best of all was the musical accompaniment. Full of surprising little touches, like a solo guitar and a birdsong chorus (from the human chorus), it never slipped back into routine.
A small complaint - charging normal full price for barely an hour of music was I thought a bit cheeky (and by the way - though some bloggers were offered free tickets to the show and rehearsal, I was not one of them. All complimenti herein are made entirely at my own expense).