The influence of the myth that Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was written for a girls’ school seems to have had a long lasting influence on performance practice resulting in presentations that are very short and uncomplicated. In reexamining the work for the Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie, Vincent Dumestre of Le Poème Harmonique and stage directors Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek come to different conclusions and, accordingly, present the work quite differently. They argue that the work was written for the court of Charles II though quite possibly never performed there owing to the death of the king and the turmoil that followed. They further argue that existing score fragments show numerous places where dance movements should be inserted and that this indicates something akin to Lully’s tragédies lyriques, especially as Lully was much in vogue in London at the time.
The works of the French baroque are a rather specialized taste. Some people love them, some not so much. There are also strong views on performance style. Some people favour an essentially modern treatment as in Robert Carsen’s Paris Garnier production of Rameau’s Les Boréades. Others are fans of the fantasy baroque approach taken by the likes of Opera Atelier. I’ve seen good examples of both approaches. What I haven’t seen before is a rigorous attempt to recreate a 17th century staging complete with period appropriate scenery and stage effects. In 2008 such an attempt was made at the Théâtre de l’Opéra Comique in Paris. The work involved was the first true opera in French; Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione. The results are very interesting.