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BWW Opera Review: MASTERVOICES Strikes a Masterful Chord with Dido and Aeneas


A heavenly aura flooded through the regal New York City Center this past Thursday night at the MasterVoices premiere of Henry Purcell & Nahum Tate's baroque opera, Dido and Aeneas. With a full orchestra, the MasterVoices choir, and the Doug Varone and Dancers company, this unique production created a majestic escape of light, sound, and movement for audience-goers. But the crème de la crème was the other-worldly talents of lead vocalists Kelli O' Hara & Victoria Clark, both geniuses in their own right, as they created the perfect balance of good and evil, sweet and sinful through every note.

With the fine-tuning of string instruments setting the scene for a grandiose, divine evening, the curtain rose to a surprisingly plain stage - no backdrop, no props; just the full MasterVoices chorus clad in black. In a refreshingly self-aware overture with humorous topical references - even Trump got a nod resulting in a thunderous laugh - the chorus showcased their vocal command and rhythmic mastery, which began the performance on a high note as the plot unfolded.

Hell bent on Queen Dido's (O'Hara) destruction, the witches and the Sorceress (Clark) create a plan to tempt the Trojan Aeneas (velvety baritone Elliot Madore) away from Carthage, leaving Dido to die from lover's heartbreak. Though the stage itself was bare, lush scenery wasn't missed, for the vocalists created a striking web of beauty, each note layering carefully atop the one sung before it.

Ms. O' Hara is a vision the minute she steps on stage; a canary jewel that glistens, needing no additional light to magnify her grace. Harnessing a plush soprano voice to match her beauty, she follows through every note with ease, creating rhythmic ecstasy with each quiver and held tone.

As the show progressed, the Doug Varone and Dancers company began to take on a larger role, moving through the space among the main players. Though this gleaming production was directed and choreographed by Varone himself, initially the troupe felt out of place and unneeded here - they seemed to function merely as props, moving tables here and there, spinning and spinning (and spinning yet again), which detracted from the fluidity of the show's cadence.

Yet their collective function became much clearer with the rise of Clark's Sorceress. An inherent darkness and mystique unfolded like syrup being slowly poured as the company added texture and richness to her sinfully delicious characterization. Through movement, they materialized her emotions and mobilized the plot's subtext in a most clever way. But don't be fooled - Clark is in no need of assistance. She is a tour de force in the truest sense of the expression as she carved through the space with authority, singing and dancing with grandeur.

A true delight. It's only a shame that this production had such a limited engagement.

Photo Credit: Erin Baiano

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