Mark Morris

MMDG's Dido and Aeneas

MMDG_Dido&Aeneas_08_Credit_BeatrizSchiller  * Notes * 
The Mark Morris Dance Group (pictured left, photograph by Beatriz Schiller) opened the new season at Cal Performances with Dido and Aeneas yesterday evening. The audience seemed completely rapt by the experience, and I have never attended a Baroque opera with so little fidgeting or noise. Morris fills all the music with choreography, so there is not a moment in which audience members feel comfortable speaking, especially since the work is only an hour long without an intermission. The dancing is unsentimental and not overly pretty. Limbs were thrown about at angles, and looked rather different on each of the 12 dancers. There were times when the choreography was much more like miming than dancing, and Morris is not shy of being crude. Humor was infused into many of the scenes, especially when dealing with witches or sailors. The dancers characterized their different roles clearly.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra started off less crisply than usual under Mark Morris himself, but did often sound lovely. There was a slight squeaky quality to the dance at the end of Scene 2. The chorus also sounded fine. Since all of the singing was from the pit, most of the soloists sounded a bit like they were singing from the bottom of a well. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (Belinda, First Witch) sang prettily, and soprano Céline Ricci (Second Woman, Second Witch) was distinct from her. Brian Thorsett sounded bright though not hefty as the Sailor. Philip Cutlip (Aeneas) sang with warmth and lightness. Stephanie Blythe gave a vivid performance as both Dido and the Sorceress. Her voice has both volume and gravity.

* Tattling * 
The audience members around me were almost completely silent and no electronic noise was noted.

Orfeo ed Euridice at the Met

  Orfeo-met-04292011 * Notes * 
The latest revival of the Metropolitan Opera's Orfeo ed Euridice (pictured left, © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) opened last night. The production, directed by Mark Morris, is busy. Done without an intermission, every second seemed full of movement. Allen Moyer's set opened, closed, shifted, and spun. Unfortunately it was rather loud, especially noticeable because the music is not. The staircase that descended and ascended could have illuminated the drama in some fashion, but simply created too much noise to be revealing. The lighting was simple and unobtrusive. The dancing had some elegant lines, and was rather humorous at times. Isaac Mizrahi's dress for Euridice was pleasant enough, as was the suit for Orfeo, and the subdued historical costumes of the chorus. Amor and most of the dancers had mundane street clothes on, they all seemed to be wearing separates. I did not understand the use of glittery cloth.

In his Met debut, Antony Walker drove the orchestra at a good clip. There were times when the musicians sound just on the edge of losing control and this was engaging. The chorus was ethereal and pretty. As Euridice, Kate Royal's Met debut revealed a voice with smooth edges, not terribly voluminous, but perfectly audible. Lisette Oropesa (Amor) seemed a bit compressed, especially in her entrance, as she was suspended from the ceiling. She did have moments of pure loveliness. David Daniels warbled as Orfeo, especially at first, but had pleasing warmth throughout. "Che farò" was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
Standing room on the orchestra level was full of whispering, but most of it died down once much of the dancing was underway. After the performance, some female patrons were seen switch out their shoes in the orchestra lobby. Evidently someone did not find this dignified, commenting that it was a "show after the show."

MMDG's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato

MMDG_LAllegroIlPenserosoEdIlModerato * Notes * 
The Mark Morris Dance Group just finished a run of L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato at Cal Performances. It seemed to be a success, the audience was entertained and amused. The dancing struck me, however, as sloppy. Many of the angles as far as arm and leg positions were not consistent on different dancers, and it did not help that the body types were so disparate. Even the running was not clean, at least one person tripped, though she recovered quickly and did not fall. The choreography itself seemed to prolong the music, and except for the very beginning, when everyone dashed around on stage, it was not surprising. Morris goes for all the cheap laughs, so naturally, simulated canine urination, spanking, and the like.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra lilted under the direction of Jane Glover. The woodwinds had some moments of imprecision, but the strings sounded fine. The chorus sounded beautiful and unsullied, in contrast to the soloists, all of whom had issues. Soprano Christine Brandes gasped and was shrill, though her last air was pretty. Soprano Lisa Saffer had too much vibrato at times, but did sing well for the most part. The tenor, Iain Paton, sounded as if he was running out of air, though his timbre was bright and lovely. James Maddalena's baritone was slightly shaky and thin.

* Tattling * 
It seemed that everyone in attendance was having a grand time. There was quite a lot of talking and giggling, but no electronic noise.

For some reason, the lights were left on during the overture, but were turned off once the singing got underway. It was not possible to follow along with the libretto, but at least this meant less noise, as there was less incentive to leaf through the program.

PBO's 2008-2009 Season

June 8 2008: Corelli by Candlelight
September 13-20 2008: Myth and the Muse (Arne and Rameau)
October 17-24 2008: Bach Reconstructed
October 25 2008: An Evening at the Palace
November 13-16 2008: A Classic Triple (Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart)
December 5-12 2008: Natale Barocco
February 5-8 2009: Midwinter Magic (Mendelssohn)
March 20-28 2009: Wind and Waves
April 18-25 2009: Handel's Wicked Queen (Athalia)
May 28-31 2009: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

Philharmonia Baroque announced their next season, which also includes a couple performances in St. Paul and New York. I am, predictably, most excited about L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato with Mark Morris Dance Group at Cal Performances. Look how nicely they scheduled it too, before San Francisco Opera's summer productions start.

2008-2009 Season | Official Site

For folded flocks, and fruitful plains

Maypole* Notes *
Henry Purcell's King Arthur or The British Worthy is not an opera in the usual sense, as the main characters do not sing. The Mark Morris Dance Group production had its American premiere in Berkeley last Saturday, and all of Dryden's spoken dialogue is cut, meaning King Arthur himself never appears as such and basically there is no plot. The production also features the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Jane Glover, the UC Chamber Chorus, and seven English National Opera singers as principals.

At times Morris' choreography is pat, simply miming the text, and worse yet was the absurd simulated sex at the end of Act II between shepherds and shepherdesses. There were many delightful moments also, especially the maypole dance in Act V. The dancers were all competent and utterly nonplussed by going through doors that lead nowhere dressed as giraffes or ducks or Bavarians as the case might be.

The singing was fairly consistent as well. Iestyn Davies shows much promise as a countertenor, his voice has good volume and is quite clear. Soprano Mhairi Lawson was perhaps least impressive, she wasn't bad by any means, but her voice is not especially pretty.

* Tattling *
The people in Row Q all shifted over from the side to the center, and subsequently, the man directly in front of me fell asleep for most of the first two acts. He woke up when the audience was laughing at the depraved bits of choreography. At least he and his companion had the good sense to leave the theatre at the intermission.