Review by Judith Caldwell
“Capella Intima” and the Gallery Players of Niagara presented an early music program culminating in Henry Purcell’s short opera Dido and Aeneas. This was the fourth concert in the 5 at The First season for 2014-15 and the first time attempt at opera-in-concert. Word of the standard of these concerts has obviously got out as the audience was close to capacity and many of them apparently were musicians themselves.
Gallery Players consist of Julie Baumgarten, & Rona Goldensher, violins; Brandon Chui, viola; Margaret Gay, cello; Borys Medicky, harpsichord. Capella Intima includes Jenny Enns Modolo’ Sheila Dietrich’ Emily Klassen’ Bud Roach and David Roth. They have the ability to make what they do look easy and that comes from excellent musicians who have practiced together a lot. They also clearly enjoyed what they were doing and were relaxed enough to have some fun with it.
The first half featured music by Purcell written for the court juxtaposed against popular tavern songs written by others. The Purcell’s included ‘Strike the Viol’ and ‘Sound the Trumpet’, some were sung by all the voices a Capella, and others by a soloist or a trio with the strings and harpsichord, so they were quiet varied. Some choruses sounded robust while the female trio sounded ethereal as the voices blended beautifully. The pub songs were a lot of fun and one was a scatological tongue twister lampooning Whiston and Ditton’s attempts to settle longitude that any children would love! It has so far not been taught in schools and as it was written by Jonathan Swift in 1735 I don’t think it will ever make the grade. The first half wrapped up with an extremely lively round song sung by all the musicians – even the orchestra.
The entire second half was devoted to Dido and Aeneas, which is only 45 minutes long. It is a wonderfully melodramatic opera where two lovers are malevolently parted by a Sorcerer and witches. The tale is told by Dido and her serving women; Aeneas; the Sorcerer and the chorus. The orchestra plays the Overture and various Dances which highlight the mood of the action. The parts of Dido and Aeneas are modulated and dignified, but the Sorcerer and the witches are really ominous and nasty and the singers milked the drama marvelously, even descending into diabolical laughter twice. We even had sound effects of thunder a couple of times. This melodrama set off the restrained and mournful sounds of Dido’s dignified lament, especially in her final ‘Remember me, but ah! forget my fate’ which brought tears to a few eyes.
Purcell wrote an extraordinary opera and it was engagingly presented by talented musicians who understood and respected the work. It certainly gave this reviewer new insight. The next 5 at the First concert is on April 11th, at 2.30pm and features triOH playing Haydn, Smetana, & Jean Lesage.
Review by Judith Caldwell