Dido on the waterfront: Cavalli’s La didone

Water Street becomes Carthage’s rocky shore (and — surprise! — the surface of a distant planet). I’m just back from the Wooster Group’s production, at St Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, of Francesco Cavalli’s 1641 opera, La didone. My mother, clever as she can be, offered to take me for my birthday, and I accepted with only the slightest research; I’ve avoided reading much about it, so, while I knew it would be experimental and had heard something about electric guitars, I was startled to learn from the program that it would be interwoven with a version of a 1965 Italian space movie, Terrore nello spazio (which, judging by what we see of it, would be flattered to be considered a C movie). Just as Aeneas is shipwrecked upon the African coast, the crew of the Argos spaceship is deposited (sucked in by a sudden increase in gravity) on the surface of the planet Aura. Both stories have their unlikelinesses, their contrarity to mundane fact: Juno, Cupid, Neptune, Jove, and Mercury all interfere with our classical characters, while the space guys have aliens to deal with. Really, what they most share, I think, is their conventionality. That is, there are conventions of space operas: “Fire the rockets at two parsecs;” and conventions of Baroque opera. Even the handwaving works for both. My back went up a little thinking that showing up the things they share was meant to make them equivalent, that the mockery of the clumsy and rigid — can I say airless? — sci fi pulp applied equally to the opera. If that was the intention (and I don’t think it was), it failed. While the space guys were running jerkily in circles in silver suits, the opera guys, also in silver suits, were singing beautiful music (with an odd band, true, theorbo, keyboard, electric guitar and accordion) and having emotions. By comparison with Mark, Wess, Sanya, et al., the Dido gang, gods included, were marvels of believability.

Dido is a big role and was sung deliciously and idiomatically (through a mike, true — there were a lot of electronics) by Hai-Ting Chinn, whom I saw in and earlier Baroque Opera In an Unlikely Place, The Coronation of Poppea at Le Poisson Rouge. I also enjoyed John Young (also seen in Poppea) as Aeneas and Andrew Nolen, shifting from bass through countertenor in the roles of Jove, Neptune, and Jarbas (the local king who loves Dido before Aeneas turns up).

(Coming Attractions updated.)

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One thought on “Dido on the waterfront: Cavalli’s La didone

  1. Ellen says:

    Interesting write up of a performance I was curious about! Nicely done!

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