Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell
16th August, 2009
I admit I was somewhat hesitant to attend Glimmerglass Opera’s Dido and Aeneas last weekend when I noticed two things on the program: its 11:30 a.m. curtain time and its designation as a “concert dramatization”. The thought of (an unstaged) Dido in the morning was vaguely nauseating, like the thought of wine with breakfast; but director Jonathan Miller’s clever concept, an exceptional cast, and the refined and inspired musical leadership of conductor Michael Beattie made for a delectable show, and I drank up every last drop of it with relish.
Jonathan Miller chose the probably not wholly original, but very effective device of setting the drama in a contemporary teenage world. This succeeds on many levels, and also solves some of the problems of the work, such as: how to incorporate the nearly-constant presence of the chorus; how to make a plot that unfolds at an accelerated pace seem natural; how to create contrasting communities of the noble and the witchy folk that are plausible as co-existing (sub)cultures.
Tamara Mumford as Dido, (with a strong, flexible voice) emerged onto the set and so looked the part of the popular “queen” - slightly taller, slightly more glamorous than her entourage - that we bought into and understood the concept immediately. She was followed by the equally convincing Joélle Harvey as Belinda, who sang the role with such an immediate, facile, and beautiful sound that I cannot imagine it sung any better. Maestro Beattie’s tempi were lively, the ornaments sharp and spontaneous in feel. The chorus - in this first scene, a somewhat slouchy, bored gaggle of mildly preppie teens - sang throughout with glorious precision and color. Composed mostly (entirely?) of Young Artists from Glimmerglass’s training studio, their camaraderie, commitment, and humor - not to mention the beauty of their fresh young voices - shone through in every scene. I liked that the director capitalized on the resources at hand in staging them in a world from which they are not so far removed and in which they were given some room to play. At times I wanted a little more staged action from them, but then it was intended to be a semi-staged “dramatization”, not a full production.