Enigmatic and Poignant Dido and Aeneas

Anne Azéma leads harpsichordist John McKean and violinist Sarah Darling. (Dan Busler photo)

In a pleasingly reconfigured Pickman Concert Hall that transformed it into a theater-in-the spherical, the Boston Camerata infused Henry Purcell’s most beloved masterpiece with new life, immediacy, and indicating. Drawing on a lifelong immersion in Renaissance masques and audio, poetry and folklore, Inventive Director Anne Azéma exploited the quite a few timbres of her performers’ voices with the same intuitive ear for splendor and distinction with which she and the composer exploited the timbres of the orchestra’s period of time instruments. From the start out, Belinda’s clean, obvious, airy voice (Camila Parias) combined with Dido’s magnificently prosperous, earthy mezzo-soprano (Tahanee Aluwihare) drew us irresistibly into a realm of spectacular energy. The magic lay in bringing out the splendor of just about every voice by setting it in the context of the other voices. Girlish and womanly, on the a single hand, boyish and manly on the other, or often even marvelously betwixt-and-amongst, the really sounds of our mysterious human evolution served as so many expressive registers in Azéma’s arms. Co-scenarist Peter Torpey’s refined manipulation of light consequences, in change, reinforced the magically timeless ambiance, bathing the tale in evocative complexity.

In the guise of a prologue, Anne Azéma stepped forward like a living Sybil to recite Virgil’s lines (Aenead, Bk. VI) evoking Aeneas in the Underworld. She summoned Aeneas himself (Luke Scott), who pleaded with Dido’s even now-suffering shade for forgiveness, but in vain. O, continue to be! Why shun me? The outcome of this spoken prologue was decisive, location the opera narrative aside. It lifted it up into a musical realm with its personal parameters of suspended disbelief and improved listening.

The official French Overture – majestic slow, then rapid – opened distinctively many thanks to breathy violins (Sarah Darling and Danilo Bonina) interacting with a properly guttural viola (Jenny Stirling), a mournfully sweet cello (Phoebe Carrai), and a courtly but eloquent harpsichord (John McKean). Collectively they requested us to ponder the future story with open up hearts. In Act the Initially, the place Dido, Belinda and Aeneas wrestle with emotions and choices, Azéma drew remarkable musical complexity out of the rating by way of a skillful notice to balances and narrative nuances. The refrain shifted from optimistic cheerfulness (When Monarchs unite) to an almost hymnal lyricism (Cupid only throws the Dart). Aeneas’s powerful argument (If not for mine, for Empire’s sake) rang out with exclusive drive many thanks to Luke Scott’s certain-footed bass-baritone. We ended up invited to rethink how own feelings and political duties vie and coalesce to condition conclusions indivisibly on the historic phase. If Andrew Pinnock is appropriate that Purcell and Tate composed Dido and Aeneas to celebrate King Charles II’s birthday at Windsor Castle in May 1684, the phone to act “for Empire’s sake” would have fallen on very notify ears. But the place is that the pressure between private motivation and general public duty has not vanished from our environment, it has simply become reformulated. Effortlessly, at each individual move, the Torpey-Azéma mise en scène teased out the timeless from the historic, the typical from the own, the allegorical from the concrete. As while all of these diverging variables had occur alongside one another, Act the Initial culminated in a lively masque-like procession entire of unmistakably English cheer (To the Hills and Vales) in advance of concluding with bright optimism in the orchestra (Triumphing Dance.)

Dido Tahanee Aluwihare and Belinda Camila Parias (Dan Busler image)

With darkened lights suggesting a cave, Act the Next transported us into a Mephisto-like realm of mischief, malice, negation and destructiveness. Following an orchestral prelude performed as a parody of French overture solemnity, a delightfully mysterious and sexually fluid Sorcerer with extensive claws and extremely awesome diction (tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts) summoned giddy youthful witches (Monica Rajan and Regina Stronceck) to do his/her/their nefarious bidding – implying that playing with negativity is enjoying with hearth. Oh, the inventiveness of dislike! Dissonant and scratchy strings in the orchestra joined the sardonic laughter of the chorus to cast a whirlwind spell close to a symbolically empty throne, seat of electric power and final decision-building, reminding us that playful mischief quickly spirals out of regulate into a Dance of Furies exactly where animal cries and shrieks exchange language. We could pretty much chew on Purcell’s chromaticism.

In contrast, Act the Next Scene 2, unfolding in a grove, spoke to us of the splendor but also the fragility of innocent spring adore. Carrai delighted us with a masterful cello pizzicato dance in area of guitar. Belinda’s new voice (Oft she visits this lone Mountain) brought to daily life Purcell’s pastoral gift as Dido and Aeneas enacted a duet of erotic attraction, kissing voluptuously on a boulder at the edge of a forest, as natural as a shepherd and his shepherdess. When the Sorcerer’s darkening clouds and thunder signaled the arrival of a storm, Belinda and the refrain tore Dido absent from Aeneas’s arms in buy to express her to basic safety. Still left by yourself in the Grove, Aeneas appeared suddenly terribly young and susceptible. Azéma herself stepped forward from directing the orchestra and chorus to provide as the Spirit disguised as Mercury, luring Aeneas to “obey the Gods” by abandoning Dido and sailing off to Italy to “restore Troy.” Aeneas, taken off guard, instinctively submits to the divine decrees. But ah! What language can I test,/ My injur’d Queen to pacify? By emphasizing this critical question, Luke Scott conveyed Aeneas’s recognition that no treatment can be observed to forestall tragedy. (Like Faust, Aeneas is powerless to shield what he enjoys from a destruction that he himself delivers about.)

Act the 3rd made a microcosm of humanity’s predicament, with our urge to escape (The Ships), our perplexed impulses (The Witches) and our shallow but earnest motivation to responsibility (The Courtroom). Scherzo-like, the well-known Sailor and Sailor jig interlude rang out with lust and vitality, comically replicating the tragic most important story of seduction and abandonment. Briefly but masterfully singing with his legs, midsection and arms as a lot as with his eloquently functional voice, Sailor David Mather embodied every youthful adventurer, every sailor in just about every port, right here currently long gone tomorrow ― younger maidens, heed the warning! But it seemed to me that Mather and his two fellow sailors skillfully illumined a further place that could nicely have resonated with Purcell himself. “For the sake of Empire,” a race of seafarers has been bred, dangerously capable but morally uprooted, craving for new horizons and new shorelines. From Purcell’s Sailor to Captain Ahab to Conrad’s Marlow, lust for lifestyle and for journey has been facilitated by a type of unavoidable callousness ― a propensity to rationalize faithlessness by emphasizing novelty, success, the setting up of new towns.  Dido delivered the line “No, faithless guy, thy course pursue” with admirable pressure and knitted brows: Aeneas, she implied, was a seafarer from the start off, incapable of lasting dedication ― of getting root in good land.

Sorcery surrounded by audience in Dido and Aeneas (Dan Busler image)

These several allusions and levels of meaning coalesced to give the final scene of Act the 3rd its total poignancy. Visually suggesting a “cycle of eternal return,” Dido and Belinda wore the garments of their opening scene. Dido wore her gold-embroidered royal gown. Belinda wore her girlish and demure gown. In my conclusion is my commencing. The seeds of lust and tragedy, along with the dim forces of negation had been there all along, but also the sudden force of enjoy, strong as loss of life, sturdy as earth. Just after Belinda eradicated her royal mantle, Dido sang her lament (When I am laid in Earth) with haunting simplicity and attractiveness, as she gracefully collapsed like a outstanding crimson flower at the foot of her individual throne. Visual attractiveness, tunes, words and phrases and this means realized an remarkable coherence of goal in this famous last scene. The refrain, Belinda and Aeneas gathered around Dido’s expired overall body like ancient mourners, masking her with a black veil. Keep in mind me, but ah! forget my fate! The Boston Camerata introduced Purcell’s Baroque masterpiece to existence not only as a individual story of like crossed by fate, not only as a timeless human tale of enjoy and loss, but also as an enigmatic and poignant allegory of how seafaring nations have destroyed several a lovely, fragile sedentary tradition. Why shun me? Thank you, Boston Camerata for making us really feel, imagine, and find out our present in the past and our past in the current.

Anne Davenport is a scholar of early contemporary theology and philosophy. She has printed textbooks on medieval theories of infinity and Descartes. Her most current reserve is “Suspicious Moderate” on the existence and performs of the 17th-century English Franciscan, Francis à Sancta Clara.