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Dido review at Unicorn Theatre, London – ‘a fuzzy update of Purcell’s opera for a younger audience’

Rachael Lloyd and Eyra Norman in Dido at Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This first collaboration between English National Opera and the Unicorn Theatre takes the form of a small-scale show designed for an audience aged 11 and above.

The plot of Purcell’s hour-long opera has been updated from the aftermath of the Trojan War to the present day. Such transfers can work well, though in this instance the new narrative is insufficiently clear, nor is it readily apparent who the central characters are.

Dido is obviously a single mother, with Belinda her daughter rather than her sister, but though the venue’s brochure labels Dido a “feminist icon”, nothing in the staging identifies her as such; instead her defining characteristic seems to be alcoholism.

When the central character, played by soprano Rachael Lloyd, additionally takes on the role of the Sorceress, who brings about the heroine’s destruction, the scenario becomes even fuzzier.

One scene that works well in Purni Morell’s production is the excursion to the country – here wittily visualised as a picnic in a park. The rest is anonymous, with the various roles assigned to the chorus utterly indistinguishable.

Clearer diction from Lloyd would help, though her voice is strong, if unvaried in tone, and she rises with dignity to the challenge of the famous lament.

Valentina Peleggi conducts a solid performance with a sense of period style. Eyra Norman skilfully portrays Belinda’s concern, though like Dido she spends too much time singing to the audience rather than to the other cast members. The best of the principals is South African baritone Njabulo Madlala, his vocalism nuanced and his diction sharply defined.

Unicorn’s Purni Morell: ‘Theatre is an industry – unless we get rid of that, we’ll have no art’

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A reworking of Purcell’s opera for younger audiences that lacks narrative clarity