|Maestro Francisco Miranda and Anna Viemeister in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas|
Vocal Productions NYC
Henry Purcell wrote this operatic masterpiece in the 1680's for a girl's school, utilizing a concise libretto by Nahum Tate. We have lost track of how many times we have heard it, enjoyed it, and written about it. Yesterday we sat in the beautifully landscaped gardens of St. John's in the Village and enjoyed it to the maximum, just as up close and personal as we would wish.
In the space of just one hour, Tate's libretto gets right to the point without any padding and Purcell's music delights the ear with memorable melodies. It is believed that the story of Queen Dido of Carthage abandoned by the Trojan hero Aeneas is a metaphor for the British people being abandoned by James II, under the spell of the Catholic church, represented in the opera by a sorcerer. But no one can say for sure so let's focus on the music making.
Anna Viemeister inhabited the role as if she were born to play it. Over the past few years we have reviewed her performances many times and have admired her delivery of arias by Verdi and Wagner. We have never quite decided whether to think of her as a dramatic soprano or a mezzo with great high notes. But we never thought of her as a Baroque singer. What a revelation!
She could charm the birds from the trees and actually did so as they joined in from time to time. Outdoor performances do have their special delights.
We always love a believable performance and this one was so special that we could feel every emotion along with her. How sweet are the delights of succumbing to Cupid's dart and how painful is the loss of love. And we understood how a woman could let her pride prevent her from forgiving a man who dares to even think of leaving her, even if he subsequently changes his mind.
As Aeneas we heard tenor John Ramseyer whom we heard in the role a few years ago when we thought he sang well but needed more dramatic investment. We are happy to report that he has grown in the role and made it his own. He evinced the character's ambivalence about leaving and sang with a gentle pianissimo. We have heard him sing a variety of roles and notice that he always vanishes right after curtain, depriving us of the opportunity to congratulate him in person!
New to New York is countertenor Rodolfo Girón who delivered a marvelous performance of the Sorcerer. We love that fach and see a great deal of promise by way of fine phrasing and an interesting instrument. His two accomplices were well played by Justyna Giermola and Anna Marie Wood who harmonized beautifully and made great use of malevolent facial expressions.
Countertenor Jonathan Goldsmith portrayed the faux Mercury (without any accoutrements) and also the sailor who sings a funny ditty.
Dido's two handmaidens were portrayed by Juliet Morris and Meghan Wilmott whose piping voice sounded just like that of a boy soprano. Her portrayal of the role of Belinda requires more clarity of diction and greater dramatic investment than just imitating the gestures of comforting .
Aside from that, diction was clear and perhaps this was the first time we got almost every word, the better to appreciate the story.
Maestro Francisco Miranda conducted from the piano and had a firm command of the strings--all six of them. The chorus contributed their comments on the action in fine harmony.
Our two favorite vocal numbers were the duet for Dido and Aeneas in which he offers to violate the supposed order of the gods and to stay with Dido whilst she, on her high horse, rejects the offer. Our heart was breaking along with hers. And of course the concluding "When I Am Laid to Rest" -- the one aria everyone would think of if one mentions this opera.
We do not know who staged and directed the piece but it worked well, utilizing whatever existed in the garden of the church-- a garden for all since the 1980's.
The costuming was of the shoestring variety and perhaps was left up to each artist. Mr. Girón's black garments were enhanced by a spectacular feathered mask and showed evidence of a fashion/design background. Ms. Viemeister accessorized her black dress with jewelry indicative of ancient times. We wanted the faux Mercury to have wings on his shoes or a helmet but he did not.
All told, we were completely drawn into the production and recommend it highly. To accommodate the many who were turned away, there will be an additional performance at 3:00 on Sunday August 4th.
(c) meche kroop