Monday, May 23, 2011

yipee a triumph

dido and aeneas opened this past weekend in rotterdam. it was great fun with a wonderful group of artists. i have to say that the show looked beautiful, much because of my incredible lighting designer marc heinz. we were really able to create something that felt simple, sparse, empty, and yet was very full in sensitivity and beauty. also my incredible assistant alison wong allowed for a level of detail the production has never had before. i was very proud. and we got a wonderful review in the volkskrant today! here it is:

The Rotterdam Operadagen Festival began with an exceptionally successful Dido and Aeneas. On the Theater Square, a giant apple refers to the forbidden fruit - and with a small jump - paradise lost, the theme of the festival. Within the confines of the theater the motto is shaped of Henry Purcell's opera about heroes who conquer the world but ultimately prove to be only men, in all their vulnerability.

In the room of the royal widow, Dido sits under a single light. Anonymous men and women walk mechanically back and forth across the stage, putting chairs down and picking them up again as an infinite repetition of a liveliness which has lost all meaning in light of Dido's sorrow. A dead tree stump is the only decoration in the sober image. Subtly, it is featured alongside Dido, as a finished companion. The queen has her mantle exchanged for a robe. At a kitchen table, she sits quietly suffering.

The American designer and director Timothy Nelson brings the show close to the public. From the audience you can see the musicians of the Flemish ensemble Scherzi Musicali, the gamba, recorder and theorbo, playing. You can almost touch Rosanne van Sandwijk (Dido) and Olivier Berten (Aeneas). Nelson's merit is that he does not let the drama choke on one dimensional grief. Anno 2011 Dido swigs her antidepressants like Russians their vodka. After use, she throws the bottle over her shoulder. As Aeneas, her adored hero, enters in a dull gray suit, the contrast between Dido's text and his appearance works to be somewhat laughable.

The 17th-century Purcell, as a psychologist avant la lettre, meticulously recorded the various voices in the head of a woman who, after losing her loved one, sinks into her grief, which also has a dark side. Musical director Nicolas Achten has enough shades with a chorus of four voices and a small ensemble to provide warm weathered colors.

Rosanne van Sandwijk sets Dido's suffering subtly, with small gestures and nuances in a voice that seeks out her role nicely. Her dark side is a bit under emphasized, but the end is crushingly beautiful. Dido lets her robe slip from her shoulders and vulnerably sings her lamentation barefoot in a white shirt. Slowly she steps off the stage and walks into the hall. Down the aisle she disappears and dissolves into nothingness.

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