Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell

Glimmerglass Opera

16th August, 2009

Mean Girls

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.

Photos by: Richard Termine/Glimmerglass Opera

Aeneas, sung by David Adam Moore, appeared on the scene and was the only disappointment in the show. Looking the part of the slightly older teen heartthrob, he unfortunately had a rather muddy sound that lacked the precision and clarity found in all of the other singers.

And then we come to the world of the Sorceress, sung in a truly shocking (in the best sense of the word) manner by Anthony Roth Costanzo. Skulking around in his skinny black jeans and hoodie, we felt his emo rage and were simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the piercing, plaintive sound of his astonishing countertenor. The chorus in these scenes transformed themselves (with the addition of more hoodies) into the bad crowd of Goths and skaters and for the first time seeing this opera I started to side with the witches and to share their delight in the imminent destruction of the wholesome preppie royalty. The two witches who serve as the Sorceress’s cohorts were sung with wonderfully spiteful vigor by Young Artists Kathryn Guthrie and Liza Forrester.

The opera ended with a slow exit by the abandoned heroine (the final verse sung more or less offstage) and the director left it up to us to decide what “happens”: does she in fact go home and kill herself? or just scribble madly in her diary? It didn’t matter. She was no longer a queen fallen from her throne; she was each of us, remembering that first big heartbreak, and how it feels like a death indeed.

Bottom line: OMG <3ed it (loved it)


Georges Briscot


Production Credits

Conductor: Michael Beattie
Director: Jonathan Miller
Scenery: Ada Smith
Lighting: Jeff Harris
Hair & Makeup: Anne Ford-Coates


Dido: Tamara Mumford
Aeneas: David Adam Moore
Belinda: Joélle Harvey
Second Woman: Hannah Dixon
Sorceress: Anthony Roth Costanzo
First Witch: Kathryn Guthrie
Second Witch: Liza Forrester
Spirit: Brittany Wheeler
Sailor: Rebecca Jo Loeb