Purcell's opera 'Dido and Aeneas' was first performed in the 1680s at a Chelsea girls' school. Seizing on this, Richard Pyros's adaptation for the Opera in Space company situates it in a morbid 'Virgin Suicides'-style world, steeped in homoeroticism (chiefly of the spanking variety). Far from the widowed warrior queen who built a North African empire from scratch, Sylvie Gallant's Dido is a cosseted teen fascinated by her own self-destructive potential. A thigh-slashing mime sets the tone, and Gallant, though her voice has limitations, conveys the requisite narcissistic naivety.
Clearly, this is not the Dido for whom Purcell threw out all seventeenth-century conventions in a climactic aria of cosmic disillusionment. Perhaps that's why Pyros shunts her famous lament into an ironic position at the beginning – though this only stores up a dissatisfying musical squib for the final scene.
With Dido infantilised, her younger sister, Belinda, grows in stature – helped by beautiful singing from Carleen Ebbs, whose grace notes and ornaments come across as spontaneous expressions of emotion. Unexpectedly, Belinda is here also one of the witches who don burka-esque gimp masks to plot Carthage's downfall in an S&M dungeon. Left unexplained, however, this significant plot point is somewhat disorientating. More confusion ensues when spoken interpolations from Christopher Marlowe's play on the same subject briefly present our guileless heroine as a practised vamp.
Katie De La Matter, Poppy Walshaw and Eleanor Harrison provide lively accompaniment on the spinet, cello and violin. But, though Opera in Space is an able and imaginative team, this 'Dido and Aeneas' just doesn't hang together. George Hull