Monday, 27 September 2021

Soloists bringing depth and power to tragic tale

Soloists bringing depth and power to tragic tale

THE soloist playing the Queen of Carthage in Henley Choral Society’s forthcoming production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas can hardly wait to get to grips with her character.

Leading soprano Samantha Crawford was a double winner at last November’s prestigious Wagner Society singing competition held at the Royal Academy of Music.

She ended up taking home the first prize together with the president’s master class award.

As part of the first prize she will be attending the International Bayreuth Scholarship Programme in Bayreuth, Germany, in August this year.

The same competition saw
mezzo-soprano Mae Heydorn win the audience prize.

Both singers have been signed up to perform in Dido and Aeneas at St Mary’s Church on Saturday, March 25 — when Mae will be taking the role of the Sorceress.

Baritone Matthew Durkan will play Aeneas in the production being overseen by the choral society’s new director of music, Peter Asprey, with soprano Lauren Zolezzi portraying Dido’s sister Belinda.

The choir and the soloists will be accompanied on the night by the Brandenburg Sinfonia, regarded as one of the most versatile musical organisations in the country.

Based on book four of Virgil’s Aeneid and composed no later than 1688, Dido and Aeneas was Purcell’s only true opera — as well as his only all-sung dramatic work.

It chronicles the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her.

For Samantha, the role’s appeal is pretty straightforward.

“I love strong women,” she says. “Dido was a female ruler in a male-dominated society. In Virgil’s story Aeneid, Dido’s brother Pygmalion kills her husband Sychaes to steal her inheritance and keep the throne, leaving Dido to flee for safety in new lands.

“The conflict Dido faces as she makes herself vulnerable to loving Aeneas after what she has been through is what I find interesting about her. She does not sit around waiting to be rescued, she chooses her own lover and ultimately her way to end the relationship.

“Dido faces pressures of leadership, hope, love, lust, excitement, betrayal, hate, confusion and peace. Purcell has captured this human expression in his composition beautifully, which makes his music a delight to sing.”

With three female soloists to one male, there is a strong female presence in what is one of the earliest known English operas and an acknowledged masterpiece of the Baroque form.

As it turns out, the three women are well known to each other.

“Mae and Lauren are both friends of mine from our student days at
the Guildhall School of Music,”
says Samantha. “Mae and I
have also been colleagues,
working on Jonathan
Kent’s production of The
Turn of the Screw

“Lauren and I have
performed opposite
each other as
Barbarina and
Countess in The
Marriage of Figaro
the Guildhall, and as
Ilia and Elettra in
Idomeneo at the
Théâtre municipal de

“It is a real
pleasure to work
with my friends
again as our
voices have
their own
distinct colours, but also blend well together in ensembles.

“We will be preparing at rehearsals in London with conductor, Peter Asprey, before the performance in Henley. This gives us the chance to delve a little deeper into our characters and play off what each of us brings to our roles. There will be a fantastic energy on the night!

“I am very much looking forward to singing Dido with Henley Choral Society and the Brandenburg Sinfonia.”

For his part, director of music Peter Asprey is looking forward to seeing how his chosen soloists bounce off each other.

He said: “I am so excited by this project because of the dramatic potential in both of these works. We have a wonderful line-up of soloists who will be able to communicate this to the full. Samantha Crawford,
                           recent winner of the
                                   Wagner Singing
                                       Competition,                                           brings so                                             much depth                                              and power                                                to the role                                                and I look                                               forward to                                               hearing                                              how she                                              contrasts                                                 with                                                 Lauren                                                Zolezzi                                              with all her                                              flair and                                            vocal agility.                                          This makes                                        Lauren the                                        ideal person to                                      sing Vivaldi’s                                     challenging but                                  beautiful Nulla in                               Mundo.

                             “Matthew Durkan                                  will be taking time                                     out from the                                           English National Opera to be with us and will be a commanding Aeneas. This promises to be a most engaging evening.”

Samantha, of course, has been party to quite a number of such evenings over the course of her career. But does she have any that she regards as her most memorable singing performances?

“It’s hard to pick just one!” she exclaims. “Schloss Schönbrunn is a beautiful Viennese palace that still houses its original royal theatre, once owned by the Habsburg family. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was touring as a piano prodigy he was invited to perform at Schönbrunn for the Habsburgs.

“It made for a very memorable summer evening when I was invited to perform some of Mozart’s own works on that stage. Performing where masters of their craft have gone before you inspires me to improve my craft every time I stand up to sing.

“However, I also have to say that every opening night of a new opera is memorable for a host of different reasons. There is usually such energy, comradery, excitement and the element of ‘live theatre’ that keeps these wonderful experiences hard to forget.”

Looking ahead to next Saturday, choral society chairman Susan Edwards added: “The evening will be one of exceptionally beautiful music from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas that includes cackling witches and drunken sailors as well as the heart-wrenching emotional dying lament of Dido to Vivaldi’s sacred music.”

Ticket prices are £18 for adults and £8 for children under 16. To book, call (01491) 572795, visit Gorvett and Stone in Duke Street or visit

n WEST Forest Sinfonia will be concert at St Paul’s Church in Readig Road, Wokingham, on the afternoon of Sunday, March 26 — the day after Henley Choral Society’s performance. Conducted by Philip Ellis, they return to the venue for a concert of British and American string music, but with woodwind, harp and piano involvement. The concert starts at 4.30pm and tickets are £15 with adult concessions £14 and students and under-18s £2.50. To book, email

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