AMONG its other charms, Bournemouth’s Richmond Hill St Andrews church boasts a magnificent wooden roof, as if an ancient galley had been overturned and placed on its columns.

The result is a pleasingly appropriate venue for a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, not only due to the opera’s nautical content.

The building’s dry acoustic (for a church) provides enough resonance to give the chorus an edge while not sacrificing clarity for the libretto.

The performers on Thursday night were from Hurn Court Opera, founded locally in 2017.

The company’s MO is taking the top young talent from conservatoires, and in the early stages of their careers, from around the country, and giving them experience in taking part in professional productions, as well as a chance to make connections.

I had previously seen the company produce The Magic Flute, back in 2019, and wrote about how impressed I was with its young performers.

And this year, of course, there was something more to celebrate, with the return of live opera to Dorset after a year’s absence, so it was unsurprising to see a good sized audience amid the pews.

The performance was put together by company director Lynton Atkinson, performance director Joy Robinson and choreographer Zenaida Janowsky – a former Royal Ballet principal.

This Dido was characterised by an elegant simplicity in costume, set and props – simple white and black robes, a mast and sail rigged on the pulpit – as well as a great deal of movement around the building (up the nave for royal entrances and hunting parties, down for funeral processions).

Four sheets manipulated by the chorus served variously as a tempest on the seas, drapes protecting a queen’s modesty and, latterly, her shroud. The elegant choreography looked physically demanding, good preparation for working in any modern opera interpretation, and keeping the eye well entertained.

As to the ear, filling the lead role was Welsh mezzo-soprano Angharad Rowlands, and she was a mesmerising Dido – quite the match for any established singer already.

By and large, the company’s young talent are still in development. Their voices are a work in progress, and may lack a little depth, power or finesse, depending on the direction in which they are headed. However, they also possess a freshness which is hard to find on the bigger stage.

Rowlands and her counterpart – Theo Perry as Aeneas – were hugely impressive, expressing power and tenderness, never losing clarity.

Natasha Page was a suitably sunny Belinda, and kept her cool admirably as the Red Arrows briefly added some unexpected special effects to the performance.

As the head of the witches, Hamish McLaren was superb, with a comfortable sounding, room-filling alto, and his devilish assistants avoided hamming up the vocals too much, while clearly enjoying themselves dancing 'evilly’.

Presumably in deference to these developing voices some of the duet/chorus sections were unusually slow, but it wasn’t too distracting.

Should you find yourself in Wilton, Salisbury, this evening, you can catch the repeat performance there.

Otherwise, I urge anyone who loves great singing to support this local gem into the future.