Bob Goepfert Reviews Opera Saratoga's Production Of "Dido And Aeneas"
SARATOGA SPRINGS: The production of “Dido and Aeneas,” which is performed outdoors in the courtyard of the Museum of Dance in Saratoga, leaves no doubt that the company’s new Artistic and General Director, Lawrence Edelson, is taking Opera Saratoga in a new direction. Thankfully, it is a promising direction.
The production is enchanting, and a treat for anyone who prefers innovation, history and intimate work. All are on display in “Dido and Aeneas” and are offered at a high level of quality.
“Dido and Aeneas” with music by Henry Purcell and a libretto by Nahum Tate tells the story of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, who falls in love with Aeneas, a warrior, who after proving himself a hero at the battle of Troy, has been shipwrecked on his way to Italy to create a new Troy by the name of Rome. Their romance is doomed by the machinations of an evil Sorceress.
The work is presumed to have been first offered in 1689, making it the first English opera – which makes the production a historically interesting event.
But the true charms of the work are the two related elements of space and collaboration. The use of dance by director/choreographer Karole Armitage elevates the production from being a curiosity to be a special and satisfying event.
The choreography brings an almost spiritual element to the romantic myth. The dances add a sensual nature to ravens, a stag, a sea spirit as well as mythical figures like Cupid, Diana and a pretend-Mercury. Performed by members of director Armitage’s company Armitage Gone! Dance, they add grace, beauty, mystery and danger to the production.
The director also uses the chorus effectively. Whether it be in pantomime, small group dances or in individual moments they always add visual interest to the effort. She uses a wide runway-type stage to add scope and imagination without losing any of the opera’s intimacy.
Nature helps as well. The work starts at 8:15 p.m. and as the light of dusk gives way to night, the hour long production becomes magical as the environment reflects the altering mood of the material. Just as the presentation becomes darker - so does the night. It climaxes with Dido collapsed under a tree as the encroaching darkness emphasizes the isolation she is suffering.
The moment is made more compelling as Jennifer Johnson Cano as Dido sets the mood with a beautifully rendered lament.
The entire cast is solid. As Dido’s sister Belinda, Christine Suits is lovely and compelling as she is responsible for rendering most of the exposition. Kate Farrar is appropriately sinister as the Sorceress and Brian Mextorf is a capable Aeneas.
One problem with the space and the performances is that often the lyrics are difficult to understand. Though it is performed in English, it would help if supertitles could be used. Fortunately the material is easy to comprehend and the staging stresses the emotions of the situation - so little is lost.
“Dido and Aeneas” is not grand opera, but it is a grand operatic experience.
The production continues for three more performances. 7:30 p.m. July 12, 19 and 21. For tickets and information 584-6018
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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