(Guest Review by Bryan Dahl)
Opening night of Dido & Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle reaffirmed that today’s world of opera revolves not around its divas, but its directors.
Because opera has endured as an art form for over 400 years, and because many of its most popular works have been staged literally thousands of times, there is a tremendously challenging precedent set for each director to constantly revitalize and re-imagine every aspect of his or her production. As opera has always been the ultimate combination of music, dance, and spectacle, everything and anything can be done to impress an audience. A director who attempts to present a tried and true classic, in a revolutionary new format, and still remain faithful to the story’s original substance, must posses an immense understanding of the music, characters, and theatrical devices at his disposal.
Enter director Barry Kosky. His daring combination of two one-act operas, written over two centuries apart, proved spectacular in every sense of the word.
The first opera, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, stages the 2,000 year old tragic love affair entirely on a massive bench, pushed right up to the lip of the stage overlooking the orchestra, before a massive, pleated wall. The depth of the stage is reduced to an almost two dimensional picture frame. Chorus members sit motionless and suddenly spring to life, flailing about like wild marionettes before falling back into their frozen stares. Their cartoonish movements and bright costumes give the impression that the Latin epic is playing out in a dollhouse. Kosky throws in a pair of half-naked, living statues and a hilarious trio of counter-tenor witches skipping back and forth across the stage plotting the lovers’ ruin, and then rips them all away, leaving the lovers alone to break each other’s hearts in the profound stillness left after so much overstimulation. His choices are all together striking, fearless, almost juvenile, but a colorfully conceived precursor to the starkness to come with Bluebeard’s Castle.
The lengthy 25 minute intermission means a significant change of scenery is coming. As the curtain rises, we see what Kosky has kept hidden behind Dido’s massive wall.