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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Opera Review: Les Arts Florissants at BAM

Les Artists Florissants opened the BAM Opera Festival with a twin bill of works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Henry Purcell. The two one-act operas, Actéon and Dido and Aeneas made an effective pairing. Although one is in French and the other in English, the two works were sung by the same cast.

Each opera was performed on a bare stage adorned with a giant mirror. Actéon was the rarity here, a work which relates the story of a hunter (the title character, sung by Ed Lyon) who falls in love with the goddess Diana (Katherine Watson). As punishment for his hubris, she turns him into a stag. He is torn to pieces by his own hounds. Entering the Harvey Theater through the audience, the exceptional cast of singers performed with great attention to detail, revealing the pastoral beauty and passionate music of this little-heard opera.

Dido and Aeneas is one of the most important operas written in the English language. The work tells the sad story of the Trojan prince Aeneas and his ill-fated love for the Queen of Carthage. The connection between the two operas is made tangible when a member of Dido's royal hunt relates the story of the ill-fated Actéon to illustrate a point to her Queen.

Baritone Konstantine Wolff was a convincing, doomed Aeneas opposite the Dido of Sonya Yoncheva. It's not easy playing two of the most famous lovers in history, but these singers connected from the moment they stepped onstage. They achieved real vocal and sexual chemistry, demonstrating why Purcell's opera is one of the great British works and one of the oldest operas to have a place in the standard repertory.

The chorus, crucial in each opera, was commendable for its attention to nuance and clear projection of the French and English texts, making the projected titles almost unnecessary. Mention must also be made of contralto Hilary Summers, whose performance in each opera added a dash of humor and a blend of otherworldly mystery and sexual ambiguity. Finally, the crack period ensemble played each work on original instruments, conducted with textural clarity by Jonathan Cohen.
Upper right: Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Lower left: Henry Purcell

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats