New York Times: January 24, 2006
Music Review | Bronx Opera

Two Clueless Newlyweds, Sharing A Bill With Purcell

Published: January 24, 2006

The Bronx Opera Company has always been a model of what can be done with modest resources. Its latest offering, which ended its brief run on Sunday afternoon at the Heckscher Theater at El Museo del Barrio, was an odd but appealing double bill, with Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" followed by a Chabrier comedy, "An Incomplete Education," to sweep away the tragic spirit.

Both works were staged by Royston Coppenger, with sets by Meganne George and costumes by James E. Crochet, but the production styles were worlds apart. "Dido" was set in classical antiquity, evoked by simple, sheer white hangings and robes with sashes. The Chabrier, by contrast, evoked Baroque opulence, the period's lavish dress possibly contributing to the work's central conflict: that the newlyweds Gontran and Hélène can't figure out what to do with each other until a thunderstorm sends the partly clothed Hélène into Gontran's arms.

The Purcell had its puzzling moments. As Dido, Michele Serrano-Möritz was uncommonly dour, and in much of the opening scene she seemed catatonic, or at least more dazed than lovelorn. And Elizabeth Hillebrand played Belinda as if it were a role in "Oklahoma!" with sunny smiles and encouraging eye contact with Aeneas. The chorus direction was peculiar, too: in the witches' scenes, the choristers slinked around and made claw hands as if they were cats. Whether you think the scene is supposed to be terrifying or comic (it has elements of both), this was simply silly.

Vocally, though, the production had a lot going for it. Ms. Serrano-Möritz sang Dido with a regal grace, and her confidantes, Ms. Hillebrand and Maria Cristina Keightley, sang attractively and with suitably light timbres. Brad Hougham sang Aeneas's music solidly, and Holly Sorensen was a fine Sorceress. The choral singing was tight enough, and the small orchestra, led by Michael Spierman, the company's artistic director, gave a good approximation of Baroque style, once you wrestled your ear into accepting the bright sound of a synthesized harpsichord. (David Zych played it stylishly, its timbre notwithstanding.)

The Chabrier is a less complex work emotionally, and Mr. Spierman and his singers - Ginger Land as Gontran and Julie DeVaera as Hélène - played it elegantly and directly.

The Bronx Opera's next production is Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte" at Lehman College, the Bronx, May 12 and 13, and at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., May 19 and 20.