Saturday, August 22, 2009

Urban Opera: Dido & Aeneas

Urban Opera
Dido & Aeneas
The Elevated Plaza @ 409 - 499 Illinois Street
Friday, 21 Aug, 7pm

Dido, Kindra Scharich
Sorceress, Milissa Carey
Aeneas, Todd Wedge
Belinda, Kimarie Torre
2nd Woman, Pam Igelsrud
1st Witch/Mercury, Cortez Mitchell
2nd Witch/Sailor, Michael McNeil

Julbilate Baroque Orchestra
Artistic Director/Conductor, Chip Grant
Production Designer, Kue King
Urban Opera Chorus

I was skeptical when I read that Urban Opera's inaugural production of Dido & Aeneas would be done at an outdoor venue with no amplification. However, tucked in the corner formed by a large building, I found that I could hear everything without too much effort. The performance started with a spoken dialog between Phoebus & Venus. This was followed by a pantomime which I interpreted to be the sacking of Troy. The cast, some shirtless & sporting tribal tattoos, others in unusual, wiry costumes by Kue King, put me in mind of a Burning Man camp.

Kindra Scharich in the title row was an excellent actress & singers, & her sturdy voice bounced back wonderfully against the building walls. In a rather idiosyncratic bit of costuming, she wore a girdle that made it appear she was pierced front to back through the belly with a cupid's arrow. Tenor Todd Wedge has a lovely, lyrical sound, definitely a lover, not a fighter. The use of extremely high-voiced counter-tenors for the witches was sometimes unsettling but worked musically & dramatically. I especially enjoyed Cortez Mitchell's pure & supernatural sound.

The staging made excellent use of the large plaza. There were entrances & exits from all directions, & it was fun to watch groups of people fleeing or approaching from a distance. The production continually came up with creative solutions to the dramatic needs of the text. The even staged a boar hunt featuring a life-size pig head with the requisite "tushes far exceeding." Dido's funeral pyre was represented by a dancer whose hands are fingers made of real flames.

This was a true group effort, & one felt the commitment of everyone involved. The show certainly had the audience's attention the whole time. Before the performance, I was briefly introduced to Chip Grant, the cheerful artistic director of the event. It was rumored that the elusive Sidney Chen of The Standing Room was in attendance, & we may have spotted him sitting quietly near the back. Guests in premium seating were offered sparkling wine in a can (Francis Coppola Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs) & what appeared to be home-made chocolate chip cookies.

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