Baroque opera has been the success story of recent classical music recordings. In a climate where music companies are loath to take chances on big production recordings, the exception seems to be the obscure world of the baroque.

Now Opera Australia has finally caught the baroque bug. This week will see the premiere of two operas never before performed by Opera Australia.

Director Patrick Nolan and conductor Richard Gill have joined forces to stage a new production of Henry Purcell’s Dido And Aeneas. They have matched this on a double bill with a short work by Monteverdi -“ more an extended dramatic song than an opera -“ Tancredi And Clorinda.

Both pieces are stories of love, war and tragedy. Dido’s lament over the exit of her lover Aeneas, at the end of Purcell’s opera, is one of the most sublime, poignant arias in the whole operatic repertoire. Nolan has taken the tone and the weight of this aria as the Archimedean point for this production.

The whole opera is very much about Dido, her sense of love and desire, her want for this man, but knowing from the very beginning of the story that it is not going to be fulfilled, Nolan explains.

So it’s an exploration of that fear, and the whole fear of falling in love. So often when we do fall in love what becomes very apparent is the absence of that love. In that one moment, when you meet the person that you feel that extraordinary love for, the intensity of that feeling also gives rise to the potential absence or potential loss of that love. That’s Dido’s conundrum, Nolan says.

Tancredi And Clorinda is a narrated story of a fight to the death between the Christian knight Tancredi and a masked Islamic warrior, who unbeknown to Tancredi is Clorinda, the enemy warrior who has smitten his heart.
With this piece Nolan has employed the talents of choreographer Lucy Guerin to help him stage this simple drama in a passionate way.

Lucy and I decided we didn’t want to use swords or any conventional means of expressing the battle, Nolan says.

We use the dancer’s bodies as the full expression of the battle, so their limbs become their weapons. The double edge of that is that it becomes very sensuous, the passion of the battle is explored sensuously and physically.

That was also one of the intentions of Monteverdi. He said that in this work he wanted to explore the passions of war and love. So it plays out this beautifully double-edged line of being about the violence of war and the extraordinary intimacy of one-on-one battle.

Angus Wood and Deborah Humble star in Baroque Masterpieces at the Sydney Opera House from 16 July to 7 August. Bookings: 9318 8200.

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