Otley Parish Church, Saturday 23 March 2019

OTLEY and Ilkley Choral Societies under the inspirational direction of their young conductor Yonni Levy deserve high praise for this performance of Henry Purcell’s operatic masterpiece. Purcell based his work on Virgil’s epic poem ‘The Aeneid’ - a tale of witches and malign spirits who destroy the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage for Aeneas, Prince of Troy.

Dido and Aeneas has been produced by opera companies around the world. There is, however, much to be said for the purity of a concert performance unsullied by overbearing stage direction or bizarre scenery and costumes. A packed audience in Otley’s atmospheric Parish Church relished the eloquence and beauty of Purcell’s music. The talented young cast, handpicked by Yonni Levy, included alumni and students of the Royal Northern College of Music and Leeds College of Music.

Mezzo soprano Charlotte Badham’s vocal characterisation as Dido enthralled the audience. Charlotte showed just why Dido’s great Lament “When I am laid in earth’” is one of the saddest outpourings in all music. Matt Mears was a bright-toned heroic sounding Prince Aeneas who is encouraged by the Witches to desert Dido in order to seek glory in Italy.

Supporting roles were just as well cast: Zoe Jackson as Belinda, Dido’s confidant and Alice Dix as the Sorceress were ably assisted by Witches Grace Watkins and Sila Dinc. Joe Yates (Spirit) Bertie Yates (Sailor) and Laura Bailie (Second Woman) delivered characterful and all too brief vocal cameos. Yonni Levy adroitly balanced the solo voices and weighty choral textures with the Yorkshire Chamber Ensemble’s delicate instrumental backing.

The youthful conductor’s skilful shading of dynamics and his sense of line were evident in the concert opener. This was the eight-part hymn Ave maris stella from Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610). Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies’ concert at St Margaret’s, Ilkley on Saturday, May 11 will be sadly Yonni’s last. He then departs these shores to take up an exciting appointment across the pond.

Geoffrey Mogridge

Ilkley Gazette (online) 26 March 2019