Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Montreal company promises a Baroque 'roller-coaster'

Sorry, should have posted this earlier!  From the Edmonton Journal, Friday February 10, 2012, by Tom Murray (freelance)

Concert preview

Theatre of Early Music: Dido and Aeneas

When: Monday at 8 p.m.
Where: University of Alberta Convocation Hall
Tickets: $11.75 to $37, available at Tix on the Square, 780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca and at the door

There may not have been much interest in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas after it was first staged in the late 17th century, but the English composer's first opera has certainly gained legs since.

The tragic Baroque opera is based on Virgil's Aeneid, the saga of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Trojan Prince Aeneas. It has been revived a number of times in the last hundred years, with Daniel Taylor's Montreal-based Theatre of Early Music being the most recent company to stage it.

The acclaimed counter-tenor and artistic director for the ensemble has assembled quite the impressive crew of vocalists (along with the choir and orchestra) for a six-show tour that opened in Winnipeg on Tuesday - sopranos Noemi Kiss (as Dido), Grace Davidson, and Agnes Zsigov-ics; baritone Alexander Dobson as Aeneas, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and Taylor himself as the evil Sorceress.

They'll make their way through Seattle before hitting Edmonton, finishing up with performances in Ottawa and Montreal in the middle of February.

Taylor spoke with The Journal the day after the Winnipeg première about Purcell's opera and the joy of singing the role of an evil villain.

How was the opening night?

"It was great, absolutely fantastic. I'm amazed at the amount of attention that's been given to the up-coming tour, and to the first show in Winnipeg. I think both shows have sold out, and Manitoba Opera has come in as co-presenters, which is pretty amazing when you consider how opera houses and symphonies are struggling these days."

You seem to have built an audience that is willing to come along for the ride.

"I've spoken with friends many times about how wonderful it is to present concerts of this relatively neglected music; it's not The Magic Flute or Aida, but it's beautiful and somewhat unknown to many people. But listen; we could be anywhere, doing anything, and 500 to 1,000 people decide to come out and have this conversation about art.

"We work as performers, and along with the audience we reveal this music. How lucky I am to be part of that."

What drew you to this story in the first place?

"Well, there is this tremendous array of strong female characters, which makes for an interesting story. There's also nothing really superfluous, or what I like to refer to as noise, in this story. It's pure plot, three acts done in around 55 minutes, and it barrels along like a roller-coaster. The end is right off a cliff, and it's not a soft ending."

You also get to play a very juicy role yourself, as the main villain of the piece.

"Yes, it's wonderful and really fun to play. The Sorceress is pure evil; she comes in with an agenda and there's no stopping her.

"She has it all planned and knows how it will work out. In the first half I sing a very beautiful piece from (Handel's) Judas Maccabeus with Grace Davidson, and then in the second half I think very little about vocal beauty, only about storytelling."

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


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