Conductor Roland Peelman indicated in his insightful pre-concert talk that this concert performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was complemented by a programme of shorter vocal works all composed in the seventeenth century.

The result was as special as this interesting talk had us anticipate. Madrigals, laments, litanies and a scena entertained us in the first half of the programme. These works were all innovations by Monteverdi, save for a pair of radical madrigal expressions by Gesualdo.

The Gesualdo works were performed with all their boldness and rich harmonic radicalism completely celebrated. This made them a definite highlight of the concert’s first half. It is always worthwhile introducing audiences to this unique composer, and giving the existing Gesualdo fans a taste of the composer’s progressive harmonic accent live.

Another thrill of this compilation was the Lamento d’Arianna in its five part madrigal form rather than as an extended recitative by a soloist. This version was rich, lush and set the text of love tragically lost across male and female voices for a more universal expression of despair at predicament.

Monteverdi’s Laetaniae della Beata Vergine was a fine interpretation  of this composer’s forward thinking regarding sacred text setting. The singing was as consistent,  driving and reverent as such litanies demand.

To conclude the first half, the Lamenta della Ninfa by Monteverdi was sung and acted with pleasing clarity of tone and character by soprano Wei Jiang with dramatic male chorus providing narrative colour.

Following interval we were treated to a concert performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. More members of The Muffat Collective accompanied the choir and soloists in this half for an historically informed rendering of this much loved work.

David Greco brought a commanding , well ornamented and rich,  sensitive voice to the role of Aeneas, as the only principal not from the ranks of the Sydney Chamber Choir.

Greco’s stagecraft and commensurate acting skill was secure and his gestures economically powerful. His final scene with Dido was dramatic gold and a well timed, well balanced vocal sparring match.

The part of Belinda was realised by Megan Cronin with agile vocal delivery. The vocal lines were nicely adorned with complex and well executed decoration. Brief but fine  characterisation of the sailor was supplied by Ed Suttle, as well as Natalie Shea’s spirit. There was ensemble evil witchcraft present with increasing excitement from Wei Jiang, Ria Andriani and Josie Gibson.

For her well sculptured role of  Dido, Belinda Montgomery utilised a full palette of vocal hue, dramatic skill and swirls of nuance.  Her interaction with chorus and Belinda’s character was keen and genuine as she  brought us a Queen’s fragilities and hesitations  at attempting any expression of emotion.

Her trajectory towards love completely lost hurtled past us in beautiful and emphatic tone. This made her character a pivotal one in both the opera and in supporting the tragic themes of the entire concert.

Montgomery’s  final ‘When I Am Laid In Earth’ was a rendition which brought the emotion and musical elaboration freshly to us in impressively graded layers.

The Muffat Ensemble was truly at home with all the seventeenth century fare. They, as well as the  vocalists, were conducted clearly by Roland Peelman. The Collective provided a rich and charismatic tapestry over which all characterisations could be woven. Both  soloists and the chorus were sympathetically accompanied.

The chorus work was joyous, engaged, vibrant and rich as Purcell’s innovative sound effects were brought to the Great Hall stage. Perhaps  the offstage echo chorus seemed a slight bit unbalanced this time, but the echo volume drop element was successful. It was only a little tweaking needed to offstage part placement which would have made the echoes completely exact.

This concert had an evocative and well sung version of Purcell’s classic opera as the jewel in its crown. There were many jewels in this programming though and some real gems of performances from choir members and invited guests on stage. It was a well patronised and exciting concert with which to conclude the choir’s 2017 season. We look forward to 2018, with the first concert at the City Recital Hall on March 25.