I took some time out from watching basketball and enjoying the fantastic weather in New York this weekend to go to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for Les Arts Florissants' productions of Charpentier's Acteon and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. It was two operas for the price of one. How could I say no?
Marc-Antoine Charpentier's one-act opera Acteon opened the program. Both operas were early Baroque compositions, so the orchestra included a theorbo, a viola da gamba, a violone, and recorders and flutes as well as violins, cellos and a harpsichord. Music Director William Christie conducted from the harpsichord. The opera was in French with English supertitles above the stage. While the production was beautiful to watch and hear, the story seemed too short for even a one-act opera. It was over before I had a chance to become interested in the action. It didn't help that the three cups of coffee I'd had earlier in the day started to wear off when I got to the theater, so I nodded off for a few minutes here and there.
Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was a much more compelling story. The opera was performed in English so the story was a bit easier to follow. While both stories are tragic, Dido featured some comic relief in the character of the sorceress's elf, who clowned around during one extended chorus. The sorceress (who had also appeared in Acteon) also shimmied around on stage with what were clearly modern dance moves. Near the end of the opera, Dido chastises Aeneas for choosing to obey what he believes are orders from the gods and leave her. When he offers to stay, saying he will defy the gods to be with her, she rejects him. It may have been a story from Virgil's Aeneid, but the way couples fight hasn't changed much in 2000 years. Throughout both operas, the singers and musicians of the company were spectacular. In particular, Sonya Yoncheva as Dido was excellent. Her aria "When I am laid in earth" at the end of the opera was beautiful and chilling.