Dido: rich, though not perfect

  • Jun 30, 2011
[caption id="attachment_5741" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Leah Wool, Robin Johannsen, Sumner Thompson"][/caption]

From the Eugene Register-Guard Thursday June 30 By Catherine Olson PORTLAND — Oregon Bach Festival and Portland Baroque Orchestra built on a thriving relationship Monday with a performance of “Dido and Aeneas” here. The concert was one of four performances around the state that the Bach Festival is sponsoring this year. Others have been staged in Ashland and Bend. The final performance is tonight in Eugene. Baroque Orchestra Artistic Director Monica Hugget began the Portland concert with Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, a boisterous dance in a sweep of perfect tuning and deep, energized tones from the violas da gamba and bass. This crisp character was lost at times as the acoustics of Portland’s First United Methodist Church ate up the articulate piano passages, as it would throughout the evening. The only moment instrumental intonation that became a distraction was on the final note of the “Frolicsome Finale.” Choral Dances from Britten’s “Gloriana” left very little impression. The vocal ensemble’s often rich timbre was evident in the second and sixth selections, “Concord” and “Final Dance of Homage,” yet lax diction and intonation issues, specifically in upper voices, made one wonder whether the group could be molded into an effective vocal presence. Thankfully, the chorus’ aptitude was confirmed outright at their first entrance of the evening’s main event: “Dido & Aeneas.” Following Robin Johannsen’s brilliant opening arioso, the chorus’ “Banish sorrow” was moving, with efficacious dynamics and stirring treatment of the text. Leah Wool, who stepped in to replace Golda Schultz as Dido, portrayed a mastery of legato singing and a luscious evenness of sound throughout her range. Yet, a discomfort or disinterest with the expressive elements of Henry Purcell’s writing was also plain, and Wool gave little heed to the rich shades of angst and melancholy with which Purcell paints this tragic heroine. The instrumental dance following the chorus’s “Fear no danger” brought the Baroque Orchestra’s mastery of Purcell’s dance rhythms into the spotlight with lively, poetic movement and perfectly energized unity. Portraying myriad characters, Amanda Jane Kelley lent amiable aid to Johannsen, both at court and in delightfully evil doings as Second Witch. Sumner Thompson supplied a striking voice with ample presence, yet his portrayal of Aeneas lacked depth. Thompson’s singing featured little dynamic variation, aside from the tender admission to Dido, “we must part,” in which the baritone portrayed Aeneas’ inner conflict as he struggles between love and duty. The ensemble numbers of Act II were undoubtedly the most engaging moments of the evening. In Act I, Johannsen skillfully portrayed an earnest and spirited Belinda with magnificent vocal shimmer and clarity that soared through melody and story line, thanks to her evident sensitivity to Purcell’s brilliant marriage of text, melody and harmonic movement. In Act II, she adjusted her skilled instrument to embrace a timbre riddled with deviousness. Huggett, with her artistry, leadership and convivial musicianship evident, superbly exuded disdain and treachery in the entire ensemble with each villainous screech and carefully placed semi-tone of “Deep vaulted cell.” In repeating passages of “When I am laid in the Earth,” Wool explored moments of beautiful vulnerability. “With drooping wings” united orchestra and chorus in superb grace and mournful movement, concluding with a forlorn fade to silence, fastidiously executed by the Baroque Orchestra, perfectly signifying Dido’s tragic fate. Overall, a rich musical evening well worth attending during their four-city tour. Catherine Olson of Portland has a master’s degree in voice performance from the University of Oregon.