U of O Opera Company performs in Alumni Auditorium

Photo by Annie Thomas

On March 15, the University of Ottawa’s Opera Productions unveiled their production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The staging was simple: open concept with three white curtains. On the right side of the stage was the U of O’s Calixa Lavellée choir, with the harpsichordist and cellist in front. On the right was a chamber-sized orchestra. Framing the stage along with the triangular shape, these focused the audience’s attention on the drama.

Director Sandra Graham used a limited number of props to accent their symbolic importance. For example when Dido, played by Lydia Piehl, first enters the stage, she’s unveiled from under a black shawl that by the end will shroud her body.

The two dancers, Sydney Barber and Taylor Houghton, were fitted with similar black material, foreshadowing Dido’s inevitable death. Crammed into the tiny space available to them however, the unrelenting movement of the dancers disrupted the solemnity of the opera.

The opera featured some comedic relief with the diabolical entrance of green strobe lighting and the sorceress and her henchmen, played by Carolynne Ball, Rebecca Gray, and Jaclyn Grossman. The witches were portrayed with conviction as they elbowed one another out of the way for the spotlight.

Belinda and the Second Woman, played by Julie Ekker and Elise Heikkila, sang beautiful legato lines. Both women supported Dido until her last cry after slitting her wrists. Joel Allison was a visually strong Aeneas in contrast; his descriptive musicality revealed Aeneas’ fickle heart.

Overall, the orchestra struggled to create the contrasting atmospheres of light and dark that alternate so frequently in this opera, while the chorus captured an appealing dance-like style. However, the intimacy of the opera was disturbed by the overwhelming sound of the choir: it threw off the ensemble balance necessary to baroque opera.

See more photos of the performance: Dido and Aeneas