Posts Tagged ‘Dido and Aeneas’

Review – Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas – Royal Opera House

April 18, 2009

Wanye Macgregor directing Baroque opera, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment providing the accompaniment? Really, when I read about this production of Dido and Aeneas at the Royal Opera House, I thought someone might have been reading through my mind and picking my dream production. Movement has frequently been a problem with Baroque opera for me (i.e. Partenope), and I thought with Macgregor, not only would this be taken care of, but we would actually have someone with enough imagination and vision to really shake up the the whole Baroque opera “thing.”

I don’t really like opera, and the only opera I do consistently enjoy IS Baroque/early music opera, but it has this horrible tendency to be staged in a manner I find just painful. It’s really all about the artistry of the singing, see, so there are these long bits where people are just standing there … singing. Sometimes this means that, well, basically someone is frozen on stage while they make really pretty noises, and sometimes … and this is worse … the director decides this singing thing, it must be very dull, I need to make sure the audience is entertained, a la the mortifying Orfeo we saw the English Touring Opera perform, and then my ability to enjoy what is coming in my ears is destroyed by my desire to claw my eyes out to get away from the horror that is on the stage in front of me.

So. Totally modern, “with it” guy taking on Baroque Opera? I say, Bring It On! It’s not a case of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (of not trusting the material), it’s an opportunity to take a really unusual ingredient to a master chef and, let’s say, make a mole’ out of ultra-dark chocolate. In addition, to me it promised the opportunity to see some great dance on stage in addition to the whole orchestra/singers shebang, so BIG STOKE!

Except for … well, the fact that on April 15th, I was just coming back from a 14 day vacation. And exhausted. Which is why I am not also reviewing Acis and Galatea. Do forgive me for this! But 90 more minutes of show after a 25 minute intermission – I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked tickets for a weeknight instead of on a weekend. I couldn’t risk being shot all of the next day at work, so I gave my modest side balcony seats to someone in the slips, realizing I was going to be missing out on a lot of great music in favor of, er, keeping my job. Ah well.

The curtain arose on the overture to show a stage with a very modern/postmodern design – a simple stage with a perhaps shoulder height light colored rectangular box on it about two thirds in, and the light-grey, Greek-esque robed Dido (Sarah Connolly) having her maid, Belinda (understudy Simona Mihai, filling in for the evening) fiddle with her dress. The overall feel for the costuming was greys (darker for the rest of the cast) and fairly simple robes … except for the dancers, who wore sleeveless shirts and black short shorts. It had a very unified feel to it, and much fresher than usual, and while the women and townsfolk looked fairly, if anonymously, classical, the men (well, Aeneas and a few of his shipmates) in their rather Japanese wide, split pants did manage to look different. Aeneas, though, wore what looked like a scarab beetle chest piece, which cracked me up. The costuming generally help focus attention on the singers, though, which was good.

I’m actually not very good at talking about singing, and should have taken many more notes to try to prod my memory (three days later) so that I could discuss it better. Sarah seemed good at Baroque singing, full of trills and expressiveness. Her movement on stage wasn’t histrionic, but neither was she stiff. Simona did sound years younger than her mistress, which was good, and benefited from sounding generally fresh and excited to be on stage. While I expect she’ll sound even better as her voice matures, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to her. Aeneas (Lucas Meachem) was fine, but the opera doesn’t focus on him so much and even a few days later I can’t remember how he sounds. I do remember what a laugh I got out of the Siamese twin First and Second Witches (Eri Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza) – it sure added a lot of visual interest to what in a previous viewing of this opera had been a very snoozy scene!

On to the choreography, which was a lot more of why I came to this. In general, the movements of the principles and the chorus on stage was far better than I’ve seen in any Baroque opera since I’ve moved to England (I usually manage two or three a year). They didn’t move just because there was nothing else going on on stage, but mostly to move the story forward; the massing during the scene in the witches’ lair was very good, while the couples promenading and cooing during the “grove” scene (“Thanks to these lovesome vales”) and the snuggling and then leave-taking of “Come away, fellow sailors” really increased the dramatic impact of the music.

However, the effect of the dancers was mixed. In part it was because of their costumes; to suddenly throw these ultra-sexy, bare-legged creatures on stage with people parading around in robes just pulls your focus right off the story and into the present. In the scenes where they were filling in for an unsung musical interlude, they were generally good, even though the dance didn’t feel quite integrated into the “feel” of the piece. In the scene where a dancer took the role of Mercury/”Spirit” (as sung deliciously by Iestyn Davies) and mimed the content/feel of his speech to Aeneas (telling him he must leave Carthage) was perfect; gorgeously lit, the offstage voice adding more to the otherworldly feel of the scene, the dancer himself looking very much like an incarnation of a god. However, during the witches’ scene, “Here Actaeon met his fate,” the dancing made me think of tits on a bull – it just didn’t fit (the costumes and movement were so wrong for the moment) and was a complete distraction. Ah well, perhaps more experience with this kind of work will lead to Macgregor getting the format right.

Overall, though, this evening proved to me that Baroque opera can be just as enjoyable to watch as it is to listen to, and I look forward to seeing such a strong performance in the future.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 15th, 2009. Two more performances are set for Saturday, April 18th and Monday, April 20th. This is the Dido you will want to see this spring!)

New season booking opens at ROH today

February 4, 2009

I am right in line to buy my tickets to Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea as choreographed by Wayne MacGregor! What an awesome meeting for my love of early music (Handel and Purcell!) and my love of dance – I mean, my God, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment? And Mr. Macgregor? I’m so there! (And he needs a nickname, doesn’t he? Wayne seems too informal … Jimmy Mack too Detroit … what should I call him?)

Here’s the blurb: “Two great works of British Baroque opera in new interpretations by Wayne McGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, make for a very special evening with The Royal Opera in collaboration with The Royal Ballet. Also, we celebrate 350 years since the birth of Purcell and 250 after the death of Handel with these complementary works on classical themes, which remain as appealing in melody and seductive in rhythm as ever.

“To both, McGregor brings his individual and acclaimed approach to the fusion of music and movement in settings of richly layered design and atmospheric lighting. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas contrasts musically and dramatically the supernatural with personal tragedy – there are the witches who delight in destruction, but at the heart is Dido, Queen of Carthage, whose Lament is one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of English opera. The pastoral mood of Handel’s Acis and Galatea also turns dark as the eponymous loves are threatened by the monster Polyphemus, but its succession of arias and choruses show its unique charm. With Christopher Hogwood conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and soloists including Sarah Connolly as Dido, this programme will have an especially rich musical interpretation.”

I can’t believe booking just opened an hour or two and it’s almost sold out! I’m getting some tickets for the triple bill (Les Sylphides / New Marriott / The Firebird) in May while I’m online.

LATER: Bought! Unfortunately my tickets are near thet end of the run. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a pair for opening night so I can get a review in while it’s hot.

Review – Carissimi’s “Jephte,” Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” and Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” – English Touring Opera at the Theatre Royal, Bath

December 3, 2006

We’re back from our weekend in Bath. I’m really tired, probably from swimming around in the pool on the roof of the Thermae spa. It was neat – cold rain came down on us while we were in the warm water, looking at the green hills and church spires through the spattered glass walls.

We stayed at Elgin Villa in an overly large room (a queen and two extra singles, wish we’d brought some more people!) quite close to the center of town, slept 9 hours both nights, went to some lovely CAMRA listed pubs (the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms and The Raven), saw two nights of Baroque Opera at the Theater Royal Bath, hit the Christmas market over and over again (couldn’t get away from it, really, since it was also Smack Dab in the Middle of Town), bought some books (ooh, I held out for a month!), looked at costumes, and generally Frittered Our Time (and Money) Away. And we bought cheese, because Bath has an awesome cheesemonger’s shop but also a stand selling Bath Soft Cheeses.

Our first night we decided to see if we could get tickets to see the English Touring Opera’s performance for the night (Carissimi’s Jephte and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. We were lucky and got the 5 pound bench seats in the back – and the performance was quite sold out! The music was very good, but there was no set to speak of for either show, and the performers seemed to have forgotten that they could actually act while they sang, if they chose to. But for the price, we had no complaints, and figured the next night, with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, would make up for it.

Alas, this was not the case; though Orfeo had MORE of a set, the stage direction was atrocious! It was, in fact, so bad that it DISTRACTED from the action on the stage. Lovely quartet? How about having Orpheus have sex under a blanket while we’re listening to the people sing? Solo? How about having people get in a stick fight off on the side? We really just did not get what they were thinking, and, at the higher price we’d paid for these tickets, we felt quite annoyed. Come on, folks! It’s not like there aren’t people in this country who know how to direct! We were glad, though, we’d gone both nights, because if Saturday had been the “highlight” of our trip, I would have considered the weekend perhaps not all that well spent!

We rounded off our trip by going (on Sunday) to the spa. The Thermae Spas are not too expensive (20 pounds per person for two hours, but they make up for it with £2.50 towel rental, good gods!) and well-laid out, with a pool in the basement, four “aromatherapy” steam rooms (though the eucalyptus one smelt of cat box to me, ick), and the quite neat roof pool. However, the pools just weren’t warm enough for us, and I really wanted a proper jacuzzi. Still, we spent a very nice hour and a half chilling and soaking, and it was a nice end to our weekend.

(The performance of Jepthe and Dido and Aeneas too plake on December 1st, 2006, while Orfeo was December 2nd. This review copied from my old blog.)