Hubbard Hall Opera Theater’s production of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” Friday night had several young singers but the performance standards were far from student levels.
The two leads — soprano Karen Jesse and tenor Patrick Cook — were well trained with several awards under their belts, including Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions district wins. And the six other singers who made up a combination of a mixed chorus or four of the lesser female roles were sure footed despite the extended and often challenging melismatic baroque writing.
Because the opera itself was less than an hour in duration having been initially written for performance in a girl’s school, director Julia Mintzer opted to enlarge on the duo’s love relationship by offering a love duet from Berlioz’s “Les Troyens,” which also involves these two characters. She also updated their costumes as she did for the Purcell opera.
Jesse and Cook sang “La nuit d’ivresse” seated on the lip of the stage with big voices and good stage deportment for a love scene. They worked well with the close harmony and constantly interweaving lines. Pianist Elizabeth Bonomo provided solid support as she did all evening.
There was some confusion in the capacity crowd as to when the “Dido” began, although Jesse had by then changed to a daytime fancy dress. The time period and the setting were also a bit obscure: was Dido a queen with helpers or a boss in a typing pool, maybe in the 1940s? The few props and the costumes seemed to indicate the latter.
Soprano Abigail Seaman as Belinda (her secretary?) was smooth and fluidly agile in her conversations with Dido, who was anxiously waiting for Aeneas. Jesse’s diction of the English was excellent as were most of the singers in the show. Cook eventually showed up and sang with appropriate energy.
The next scene belonged to the witches who were out to disrupt any plans Dido and Aeneas had. As the sorceress, mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn McMonigle’s voice was like a clarion: clear, strong, edged and with superb diction. She enjoyed looking evil. Soprano Amy Shake and mezzo-soprano Amanda Perera as her witches sang with fervor but were only along for the ride. Sanghyun Im and James McAdams provided the male component.
The set was awkward with risers strung about. Blocking was rather disjointed and didn’t flow. All was forgotten when Jesse eloquently sang Dido’s famous final lament before she removed her jewels and walked into the unknown. Having the sorceress don those jewels and gather her minions about her was like a knife in the heart — a wonderfully dark gesture.