FOR THE RECORD … MARIE MCLAUGHLIN CHOOSES A PERSONAL FAVOURITE
speak first, like Baker, never overacting with the voice.
To say that I have a fondness for Decca’s 1975 recording of Dido and Aeneas is only to scratch the surface of my feelings for it. Presenting the work in the edition by Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst, the recording’s historical, musical and academic significance is clear, but my own attachment to it sits deeper.
I couldn’t have found a better mentor than Peter Pears. For three years he brought me to study every summer at Aldeburgh, where my career opportunities began. I was taken by his benevolence and eagerness to help singers flourish. He was extremely thoughtful, understanding that I couldn’t afford to pay for the programme, but wishing to help me develop as an artist regardless. Writing in February 2021, I can’t speak about Steuart Bedford without expressing my sorrow at his passing only a few days ago. He was one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever had the honour of collaborating with. Steuart, whose assertive yet poignant direction is apparent throughout this recording, was gifted with a natural sensibility for conducting singers. He offered their expression a new sense of freedom and control under his baton; guided by him, this cast articulate their characterizations with total integrity (and what a cast it is—the crème de la crème of British artists of the 1970s). Steuart conducted when I sang Tytania at both Aldeburgh and Covent Garden, and I never tired of our work.
Dido and Aeneas, with Janet Baker, Norma Burrowes, Anna Reynolds, Peter Pears, c. Steuart Bedford (1975)
The impact Janet Baker had on my early development was profound: in essence, she was my operatic heroine. Listening to her was a lesson in and of itself. Her Dido memorably reveals her ability to spin a phrase, epitomizing bel canto singing, while never sacrificing the text. The consummate artist, she is absorbed in the music while remaining utterly committed dramatically, with her exemplary technique used as a tool to transport her communication. It was the thrill of my life when my first professional engagement found me performing alongside her, as Amor in Orfeo ed Euridice, conducted by Alexander Gibson, for Scottish Opera. I discovered first-hand that she was not only a great artist but also a truly generous and gracious colleague. Her Dido is perfectly complemented by Peter Pears’s Aeneas. The range of emotion he communicates in even the most seemingly simple phrases (his haunting ‘But, ah! What language can I try …’, for instance) is breathtaking. Pears always allowed the music and the text to
That is the key to great art: no matter how often one comes across it, it is never dull. This timeless recording is one all musicians can learn from, as I myself continue to do.
Opera, May 2021