So... There I was, first time Opera attendee extraordinaire, about to sit through a performance of Virgil's Dido and Aeneas, as interpreted in Henry Purcell's 17th century Opera, as staged by world reknown choreographer Mark Morris and The Mark Morris Dance Group, in collaboration with the Orange County Pacific Symphony, and the UC Irvine Chamber Singers, at The Barclay Theatre.
Let's see...that's 2000+ years of interpretation tossed into one stew pot, stirred, and served up in one hour, for dinner. ;-D
Not a bad pedigree for what appears to be the oldest English Opera still being performed in the world.
My 1st Opera and it wasn't even a standard Opera! ;-D
Late arrival? Just follow the Usher to an anteroom in the Lobby, and read Part 1...I'll wait. ;-D
Dean Corey, President and Artistic Director of the Philharmonic Society gave a short opening lecture on Purcell's music to get us all in the mood, and then...
Oh, wait, first, I hope y'all have read the Libretto and Synopsis (The text of a work for the musical theater), because you are going to need to! (Photos below, are in no particular order.);-D
If not, let ME tell you what happens. ;-D
The first thing you notice is the minimalist constuming, and stage scenery, and the few items used as scenery on the floor of the stage in various scenes.
The story is told in 5 scenes.
In Scene 1 the Trojan War has come to an end, and Aeneas and his people are hanging out in Carthage.
The Gods say he's to get his behind to Rome, but he's in love with the Queen, Dido.
Her Sister, and various hangers-on urge her to enjoy her good fortune to the fullest, but being a widow, and all, she isn't so sure.
He comes, he pleads, she listens...Love conquers all!
The lead dancers on the night I attend are a well-matched pair, beautiful to look at, athletic dancers, and emothionally invested in the parts they play:
Aeneas is played by Craig Biesecker, Dido and the Sorceress are played by Amber Darragh.
The Sister, Belinda, is well played by Maile Okamura, and various supporting roles such as the witches, sailors, and spirits are well danced.
Scene 2 has the audience hanging out in a cave with a Sorceress, and a pair of witches.
She's as antsy to destroy Dido, before sunset, as Dodger fans are to head for the parking lot at the Seventh Inning Stretch, in order to beat the crowds.
The Sorceress schemes to send a spirit, disguised as Mercury, to tell Aeneas that he simply MUST haul ass for Rome immediately, there's just nothing else for it, old chap.
The lovers are out hunting, however, so a storm is brewed, aimed at spoiling all the fun.
What's Opera without singers, right?
Well, this one has some good ones.
Aeneas is sung by the Baritone, Christopher Johnstone, Dido and the Sorceress are sung by the Mezzo-Soprano, Jamie Van Eyck, and Belinda, and one of the witches is sung by Yulia Van Doren.
Various other roles are sung, and the UC Irvine Chamber Singers lend their voices as well.
Scene 3 has the audience transported to the grove where the lovebirds (and friends) are hunting game, and a place to make out, as well, I gather.
They find that, and our hero is once again trumphant! ;-D
Dido senses an approaching storm, and Belinda gets everyone organized, and ready to head back home.
Meanwhile Aeneas is found, as luck would have it for the scheming Sorceress, alone, by the false Mercury who convinces him to leave town.
Our Hero then starts sweating how to break the news to you know who.
The Orange County Pacific Symphony beautifully plays the music of Purcell, and I find that the most enjoyable aspect of the whole production.
One of the things I learned about the Libretto, by Nahun Tate, in an article by The Berkshire Eagle, found in my Press Kit, was that it was a not so subtle tale about the Monarchs William and Mary, the Roman Catholic Church of his, and their day, and the English people.
It seems the old boy's injection of the Sorceress, and witches, was a Not According to Virgil move on his part. ;-D
Even way back then writers of popular entertainment were taking liberties with the source material. ;-D
Scene 4 finds events have shifted to the ships in port as Aeneas and the Trojans prepare to leave town and march off to meet his destiny.
The witches are most full of themselves with the succcess of their scheming, and plan an ocean storm once the ships are at sea.
The reason I encourage attendees to familiarize themselves with the plot synopsis of the opera, and the sung dialogue, is that, unless you are a long time opera goer with ears attuned to the style of warbling on display, or the theatre has the words projected somehow above the stage, you will understand few of the words you hear, I don't care if it IS in English! ;-D
More than anything that lack of understandability turns me off from Opera.
A simple 5 act play, like this one, an hour in length, is easy to grasp, but those long ones, with the actors on stage doing the singing?
I'm lost. ;-D
The singers, solo, and choral, were fine, don't get me wrong, their voices beautiful to the ear, and their emotions converying that of the scenes they sung, but I only understood the baritone, and that only a few, clear, times.
Once you understand the plot, and the dialog, the dancers interpretations of the scenes are understandable, and entertaining, hitting all the emotional marks, and even displaying humor, intentional, and otherwise, in spots.
Scene 5 is at the Palace and it is here that the tragedy begins to play out.
Aeneas trys to explain himself, and offers to stay, ignoring the Will of the Gods.
Dido is appalled! Hypocrite! Go! Hie thee to Rome, and don't you give me any guff about it!
The poor woman then contemplates how death is inevitable, and dies.
So sad. :..(
When the lights went up the audience began to clap, and slowly some then, almost everyone stood, many cheering, as the cast took its bows, some letting loose with a BRAVO!
A young boy, and his parents were making their way up the aisle, and I asked him, "So, young man, you planning to be a ballet dancer when you grow up?";-D
He smiles, and his parents laugh because it turns out that one of the major performers, I forget who, is a relative, and they were there to lend their support.
If you can't attend a live performance there is good news!
There is a 1995 performance, on film, by the Mark Morris Dance Group with Morris as Dido and the Sorceress, and Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane singing both roles, that is very highly regarded. ;-D
Either way...it is a performace worth the effort to seek out.