|William Remmers as Merlin and Zoe Hart as Philadel
With works over three centuries old, one does not expect the entire score and libretto to survive, but Mr. Remmers, stepping down from his customary role of conductor, cobbled together a 90-minute adaptation, taking on a number of roles himself. He first played Sir Thomas Betterton, an impresario bringing his troupe of actors and singers to Carthage to perform for the Queen. But the actors were eaten by cannibals and so he was stuck with a bunch of singers who "couldn't act", slipping in a private joke for the audience.
He also assumed the role of Oswald, the Saxon King who was battling with King Arthur, the King of the Britons. This was probably meant to be an allegory for the political situation in Restoration England but we do not need to concern ourselves with that detail. Let us just enjoy the outrageous performances--not only as Merlin but also as the Cold Genius in the Frost Scene and later as Comus, god of the Masque.
Singers also doubled in their roles. The beautiful coloratura soprano Madison Marie McIntosh was perfectly cast as the blind Cornish Princess Emmeline, beloved of King Arthur (Lieve Buzard) but kidnapped by the Saxons; she later appeared as Cupid (not the blind boy-child we have come to expect) and had the opportunity to exhibit an impressive skill with ornamentation. Having awakened the Cold Genius from his long winter's nap, we were treated to a marvelous aria "Tis I that have warm'd ye" which was picked up by the excellent chorus as "Tis love that has warm'd ye".
It was the custom of the time to give singing roles only to supernatural creatures and rustics; so we had the burly voiced Glenn Friedman, wearing elfin ears, as Grimbald, an evil spirit, and the lovely soprano Zoe Hart as the good spirit Philadel who saves the day for the Britons.
A memorable trio was sung by tenor Matthew Hughes as a shepherd with his two shepherdesses sung by soprano Rachel Rosenberg and mezzo-soprano Sidney Dixon; the harmonies were delicious.
|Caroline Tye as Dido and Winnie Nieh as Belinda
Seeing Dido and Aeneas twice within one week could only occur in New York City. We enjoyed this performance more because it was played straight and because the English diction was better. We are not claiming to have understood every word but we understood enough to grasp the slender plot.
Caroline Tye's rich voice and majestic appearance served her well as Queen Dido with Winnie Nieh's high soprano making gorgeous harmonies as her Handmaiden Belinda. The entire action leads up to the famous aria "Dido's Lament" which Ms. Tye milked for all it was worth.
Her lover Prince Aeneas of Troy, sung by Stan Lacy, gets bamboozled by a team of nogoodniks who, determined to destroy her and her court, convince him that the gods want him to leave and establish a new Troy on Latin soil.
Countertenor Robert E. Lee made a compelling Sorcerer, with his two witches played by Noelle McMurtry and Brittany Fowler. We were impressed by the unusual vocal timbre of Raquel Nobile who portrayed another spirit. Matthew Hughes did a fine hornpipe as the Sailor.
Purcell's gorgeous music was finely handled by Music Director Jason Wirth, conducting from the harpsichord, with string quartet plus bass, and...WHO IS THAT PLAYING GUITAR??? Oh, none other than Mr. Remmers himself who probably thought that coming up with the concept, writing the dialogue, narrating, performing, and assistant directing were just not enough.
There was some excellent work from the chorus.
Stage Direction by Eric Lamp was excellent, especially in the sacrifice scene opening King Arthur. It would appear that the costumes came from the singers' own collections with clever additions from the 99-cent stores. We love to see imagination substituting for big budgets!
There are two pieces of good news to share with you readers. One is that you have two opportunities to enjoy this evening of Purcell--Saturday night (tonight) at 7:30 and Sunday matinee at 3:00. All performances take place in Lang Recital Hall of Hunter College, a most agreeable theater.
The second piece of good news is that Utopia Opera has been granted 501(c)(3) status so that your donations will be TAX-DEDUCTIBLE!
(c) meche kroop