Hit and myth

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

Dido and Ae­neas Santa Fe Sym­phony’s Baroque En­sem­ble and Cho­rus St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium, Feb. 7

Great minds against them­selves con­spire And shun the cure they most de­sire. Dido loved Ae­neas way too much. As Greek myth would have it, the Queen of Carthage and the ship­wrecked founder of Rome had such a mem­o­rable fling that she killed her­self when he left. In Henry Pur­cell’s hour-long opera, Dido’s tragic plight makes for some won­der­fully sad mu­sic, along with some rous­ing ha-has along the way.

Writ­ten by Pur­cell for stu­dents of a Lon­don girls’ school, the opera had its pre­miere in 1689. This Baroque piece is one of the ear­li­est English op­eras. The mu­sic has an al­most Re­nais­sance tinge to it, a sim­plic­ity that be­lies the or­na­men­ta­tion and spec­ta­cle the form was later known for.

On a Su­per Bowl Sun­day af­ter­noon, with snow fall­ing on the streets of Santa Fe, the at­mos­phere cre­ated by every­one on stage was not without beauty, emo­tion, and pathos. Th­ese came as mere mo­ments of plea­sure in a pro­duc­tion that was some­what of a mixed-bag. The high­lights: SarahWeiler as the Sor­cer­ess. Weiler brought to her role a level of con­fi­dence and pro­jec­tion that of­fered weight to her char­ac­ter­i­za­tion without witchy pos­tur­ing. Her sound was full and rich, and her dic­tion lent power to the evil in­her­ent in the text.

TimWill­son as Ae­neas. By far the most op­er­atic of the soloists, Will­son may have lacked sup­port in some of his higher notes. He was also the only singer to use breath and tone vari­ance to at­tempt to color each phrase with drama.

The cho­rus. The group’s rich sound— though per­haps out of pro­por­tion with Pur­cell’s in­ten­tions— clearly sung lyrics, and bal­ance pro­vided some of the most mu­si­cally sat­is­fy­ing mo­ments of the af­ter­noon. The 52 com­mit­ted singers pro­duced a sound that was a wel­come con­trast to that of the fe­male-dom­i­nated solo cast.

The Baroque En­sem­ble, fea­tur­ing Kath­leen McIn­tosh on harp­si­chord, DanaWino­grad on cello, vi­o­lin­ists David Fel­berg and Ni­colle Ma­niaci, Vir­ginia Lawrence on vi­ola, and Terry Pruitt on dou­ble bass. The en­sem­ble evolved over the hour into a group that un­ob­tru­sively man­aged to de­fine con­text and serve as a con­duit be­tween the big washes of choral color and the smaller, some­times weaker, solo ef­forts. This small “or­ches­tra” served up a solid, in­tel­li­gent read­ing of the Pur­cell score, al­though the dance sec­tions could have been more ef­fu­sive.

The big aria of the evening was sung by Sarah Ih­le­feld. “Dido’s Lament” is the kind of tragic melody that opera buffs hold their breaths for— it can be sub­lime. Ih­le­feld, solid and com­mit­ted through­out the beginning of the piece, seemed un­able to rise to the emo­tional peak of this fi­nal mo­ment. Still, she stood out ear­lier— her ini­tial scenes with Sasha Garver (as Belinda) and Rene M. Sosa-Proven­cio (as the sec­ond woman and first witch) were ex­am­ples of vo­cal ma­tu­rity ver­sus youth.

Linda Raney con­ducted clearly and ca­pa­bly, al­though one wishes that some of the choral re­frains could have come across as ac­tual echoes and that there had been choral pi­anis­si­mos that stunned with quiet.

— MichaelWade Simp­son

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