Haymarket Opera closes its season with a well-sung, mostly charming “Dido”

Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 6:07 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Kimberly McCord as Dido and Sarah Edgar as Cupid in Haymarket Opera’s production of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.”

Dido and Aeneas may not have been the most adventurous choice of repertoire for the fledgling company that has brought some decidedly obscure stage works to Chicago. But the charming, imaginative, vocally inspired performance of Purcell’s classic served up by the Haymarket Opera Company Saturday night showed that the Baroque opera troupe is reaching cruising speed.

Haymarket founder and music director Craig Trompeter has in two short seasons built a loyal audience at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, as was manifest by the two sold-out shows on a very chilly weekend. With the inevitable next step of moving to a larger venue and presenting longer, evening-length operas, Haymarket’s future looks very bright indeed.

Dido and Aeneas is the oldest opera still in the regular repertory. The concise dramaturgy of the ill-fated lovers and small resources called for are well-suited to Haymarket’s mission to present Baroque opera in the musical style and with the historically informed staging in which audiences would have heard them at the time.

Ellen Hargis has honed the stage direction of Haymarket shows to a fine point and the stylized movements now have a graceful fluidity that looks natural and is utterly charming. With some excellent company newcomers and superb musical direction led by Trompeter, this Dido was one of the company’s finest efforts yet.

For these performances, Hargis has devised a Prologue of sorts with three masques mining Purcell songs and other music to flesh out what she views as the opera’s underdeveloped characters and make for a longer evening than the 50-minute opera would offer (and perhaps allow this expanded Dido to maintain the convivial intermission where the company gets a percentage of the drinks purchased).

While it was nice to hear such Purcell songs as Music for a while and the singing and dancing were done with a light touch, some of the broad comedy and music in this ersatz Prologue jarred with the more somber and tragic Dido. Accomplished as the execution was, for a company that prides itself on historical accuracy, this really seems like going a Purcellian bridge too far, as did Hargis’s freely interventionist approach elsewhere, renaming some Dido characters and even altering the text in places.

In the opera proper, Kimberly McCord, making her company debut, proved a superb Dido. Tall and aptly regal, McCord found a convincing middle ground between the stylized movements and emotional intensity, delivering a lovely Ah, Belinda and expressive and affecting Lament.

Peter van de Graaff was a forthright and vocally robust Aeneas, Kelly Ballou a pure-voiced Belinda. It was nice to have Angela Young Smucker’s Sorceress genuinely sung for once minus the cackling that has become de rigeur in recent years.

The chorus members rendered their ensemble and solo assignments with worthy vocalism and a sense of engagement. Choreographer Sarah Edgar’s lively dances had what looked like the right idiomatic touch though having the choreographer cavort about as Cupid in an unfortunate costume verged on camp and distracted from the tragic coda of the opera. Sometimes less is more.

Trompeter led the 11-member orchestra with a buoyant rhythmic swing, intonation largely on point throughout the evening.

Haymarket Opera Company opens its third season October 4 and 5 with Telemann’s Pimpione. haymarketopera.org

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Haymarket Opera closes its season with a well-sung, mostly charming “Dido””

  1. Posted Feb 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm by Roland Buck

    “With the inevitable next step of moving to a larger venue”

    I hope that such a next step is inevitable. With neither the Lyric nor COT including a baroque opera, the Haymaket is the only game in town. If they presented their performances at a more accessible location, they could pick up a lot of the people who attended Rinaldo and Tesseo last season.

  2. Posted Feb 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm by Dan

    Twas a tremendous performance through and through. Kimberly McCord was indeed superb, embodying Dido as a medium does a spirit, invoking the fallen queen to share her fated story with the audience at Haymarket. I will never forget the luscious singing, pathos and ethos she gave to the role.

    Praise should not be used sparingly for the other members of this exceptional cast: The strong, burnished tone of Peter Van de Graaff made a compelling Aeneas, Kelly Ballou was an ideal choice vocally and dramatically for the devoted Belinda, Angela Young Smucker and her sorceress companions Kayleen Sanchez and Laura Pinto sang beautifully and were a delight to watch, Will Bouvel’s buttery tenor voice worked harmoniously with the music, eliciting laughter with his comedic yet sensitive role as the drunken sailor, trying to escape the nuptial shackles of Amaryllis, played by Nathalie Colas, who delivered the role with impeccable vocalism and stage presence.

    There simply wasn’t a weak link as the remaining male characters played by Sam Thompson, Patrick Muehleise and Eric Miranda all sang with vigor and vim. Many thanks to Craig Trompeter and Jeri-Lou Zike for great music this weekend and for creating a wonderful opera company.

Leave a Comment