The spring staged presentation by MasterVoices, formerly the Collegiate Chorale, at City Center, was composer Henry Purcell’s Baroque gem “Dido and Aeneas” (1689), with libretto by Nahum Tate and, with Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Victoria Clark; accomplished opera singers Elliot Madore, Anna Christy, and Sarah Mesko; and choral, dance, and instrumental virtuosi MasterVoices, Doug Varone and Dancers, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s collaborating, the result was breathtaking, entertaining and deeply moving as appropriate. Guiding “Dido” were MasterVoices Artistic Director Ted Sperling, conducting, and Doug Varone, directing and choreographing. David Korins was scenic consultant, David Grill designed the lighting, and Christian Siriano provided the gowns. “Dido” was preceded by a new and topical curtain raiser, “The Daughters of Necessity: A Prologue,” by Michael John LaChiusa, and was given on two nights. Opening night, April 28, is discussed here.
In LaChiusa’s lyric prologue, MasterVoices, arrayed on bleachers, celebrated in upbeat, up-to-date verses that mentioned the likes of New Jersey, “Game of Thrones,” Donald Trump, cellphones, and computers. Brooding Fates Decima (Christy) the spinner, Nona (Mesko) the measurer, and Morta (Clark) the dealer of death, decided destinies, cut life threads, regretted that Dido’s was so short and, as members of MasterVoices were ‘struck down,’ discarded their threads in a recycling bin.
In the opera proper, dancers used the areas in front of and between the bleachers as their playing area. A versatile table, chairs, and a chandelier were the sole set pieces. As MasterVoices sang most mellifluously as Dido’s courtiers and morphed into cackling witches and rollicking sailors, so were Varone’s dancers formal in the court scenes, fearsome as beasts in the witchy ones, and boisterous as “boozy” mariners, having to be carried off by “nymphs” that they wooed.
Casting a couple of the classiest of music theater singers in leading roles was a MasterVoices masterstroke. Not a super-sonorous Dido in the Kirsten Flagstad and Jessye Norman mold, O’Hara’s melancholy Queen of Carthage was gentle, regal, vulnerable, lyrical and, in short, just about perfect. Clark as the Sorceress, Dido’s destructive counterpart, was the embodiment of evil. As Siriano’s gowns for O’Hara progressed from elegant pastels to black mourning for her poignant lament, “When I am laid in earth,” so did Clark’s go from black as night, when she plotted against her nemesis, to blazing scarlet, as, leering, she vanquished her foe.
Evil twins further played their part as Christy, of the crystalline soprano, portrayed not only Belinda, Dido’s trusted sister, her nearest and dearest, but also one of the Sorceress’ louche “wayward sisters,” assignments in which she was seconded by round-toned mezzo-soprano Mesko. Polished lyric baritone Madore was the brooding hero Aeneas, on leave from the Trojan War, and his saturnine doppelgänger was dancer Alex Springer, Clark’s Sorceress’ ‘pet,’ who, in the likeness of Mercury, brought the Prince the spurious message, voiced by Clark, to terminate his dalliance with Dido and return to his martial mission. MasterVoices tenor Nathaniel Dolquist sang the raucous sailor’s solo.
MasterVoices return to City Center on October 20 and 21 for the New York premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s “27” (2014), probing Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ love, life, and artistic salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris, guided by Sperling and director James Robinson, and featuring Stephanie Bythe and Heidi Stober as Stein and Toklas, with Theo Lebow, Tobias Greenhalgh, Daniel Brevik, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Visit www.mastervoices.org
for further information.