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Ideals of love as high as Dido's demand much from a production if they are to be convincing. Dido, of course, rejects Aeneas because he intially succumbs to Fate's dictum that he leave her, but such conviction can emerge easily as prissiness, and its ruler, destiny, as mere farce. The principals last night did capture the opera's ideals; the chorus gave adequate support to the venture, the orchestra little; and the forces of destiny did not even pretend to their powers, nor did they exhibit that of singing ability.
Purcell has sketched Dido and Aeneas as very real people. Aeneas almost parodies the traditional hero: when Fate tells him to depart he immediately says "of course" but when he thinks about it he curses the Spirit rather pompously. Alvarez Bulos paraded in just that manner, and swelled the roundness of his tone to catch Aeneas's rather stolid uprightness. In fact, his effort went too far: his tone became coarse and lacked contrast in its registers.
But what did most to save the performance was Marilyn Miller's Dido. She unleashed her rich, vibrant soprano without jarring Purcell's carefully organized elaborations and achieved an intensity which is essential to a character as impassioned as Dido. Miss Miller's very lack of gestures or changes of expression conveyed her strength; her cry to Aeneas of "Away!" displayed how much Dido meant it. Mary Lou Sullivan was a brilliant contrast to her as Belinda, Dido's sister. Her voice had just the lightness and grace the part needs, and she did not burlesque her role as the traditional confidante.
If the principals achieved the contrasts so important to the opera, the witches, the Socerer, and the Spirit did not. The witches may be comical, but the Sorcerer is actually a woman's part, demanding the majesty of the Ring's Erda. But Harvery Mole discarded all stature and gave his voice a harshness which was supposedly villainous but instead was merely ugly. Neither he nor the Spirit, Michael McDonald, knew how to pronounce properly either for diction or sonority: McDonald was so ineffective that Aeneas seemed the more powerful when the Spirit told him to depart. And the witches could not sing. The chorus blended well and enlivened the evening with their vigor. But they were plagued with faulty pitch, particularly in the woman, and fell apart when reduced to individual voices.
The very setting of the production in Leverett's old library added a pleasant informality which heightened the acting's exuberance. What hurt the performance most often was the orchestra's ineptitude under conductor Anthony Weymouth, its failure to keep time, and the tremulous sound of its violins. It is a shame that many passages without the principals were best ignored.
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