* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera presented a double bill of Dido and Aeneas (Paula Murrihy and Liam Bonner in the title roles pictured left, photograph by Craig Matthew) and Bluebeard's Castle last night. The juxtaposition of these two works is pleasantly odd. Conducted by Steven Sloane, the orchestra could have sounded slightly crisper in the first piece, but the lushness of playing for the second piece suited its atmospheric score.
Director Barrie Kosky's production is from Frankfurt Opera, and certainly looks it. The set is attractively minimal, a pleated wall and long bench rather far downstage for the Purcell, and a rotating slanted circular platform for the Bartók. The use of lighting and choreography rather than video projections is welcome.
Kosky certainly did not lack for ideas, though some were unsettling, especially in the first offering. Countertenors are employed as the Sorceress and Witches, and it is disconcerting that all three happen to be bearded African American men in unflattering gowns, while the protagonist is a trim, blond white woman. Dido stayed on stage for the last chorus and gasped as all the singers and orchestra members left the pit one by one. This is, of course, opposed to the text of Dido's last aria but certainly commands attention.
The singing for Dido and Aeneas was good. The chorus sounded sprightly. G. Thomas Allen (First Witch) sounded warm. John Holiday's countertenor is also rather resonant, and he made for a disturbing Sorceress. Kateryna Kasper sang Belinda with much clarity. Liam Bonner was a prettily reedy Aeneas. Paula Murrihy sang Dido with conviction. Her voice is lucid and beautiful.
The staging of Bluebeard is a similar mixture of concrete and abstract depictions. We see blood, tears, gold, and foliage, all referred to in the libretto. There are not, however, any actual doors. Instead three identically suited men show up at different points and all sorts of theatrics ensue. It is impressive how much glitter pours from one man's sleeves for the third door. All three men drip water from their jackets as a representation of the lake of tears behind the sixth door. All rather imaginative, but the movements for the two principals required a great deal of physicality, and seemed a lot to ask for as the piece has serious vocal demands as well.
Robert Hayward was a plaintive Bluebeard. There were brief moments when he was difficult to hear given the volume of the orchestra and how he was facing as the stage turned. Claudia Mahnke makes for a sympathetic Judith. Her voice is strong and piercing without being harsh.
* Tattling *
I was shamefully late for the performance, but was seated during "Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment."