The last line in the program for Urban Opera's Dido and Aeneas, is "If you like what you see, please make it a point to thank them [the performers]." Since I didn't get a chance to do so at the performance's conclusion, I'd like to publicly thank the entire cast, crew and the Jubilate Baroque Orchestra for putting on a damn fine show. It's easy to be skeptical about the promise of a small company in a big town, but Urban Opera's first time outing was more successful than it had any right to be.
To begin with, staging an opera outdoors is a risky proposition under the best of circumstances. When I woke up this morning and saw the customary summer fog, my thoughts turned to my plans for this evening and a voice in my head said this is going to be a cold and ugly night. Sometime in the early afternoon Zeus decided to smile on this company, and the weather made an about-face so surprising I'm not sure I've ever witnessed one like it in the years I've lived here. The weather was perfect. The setting was fantastic- with the Bay to the left, a green lawn spread before us, complete with a twisting, mirrored sperm-like twisted French Horn (the 70's kind) sculpture somewhat resembling the city of Chicago's "Bean", tall bamboo fronting the buildings framing the space and uncanny acoustics for being outdoors in the City, I walked into the performance space and thought- hmm- this looks pretty promising.
But enough of all that- there was opera to be performed, and that was why I was there.
The production begins with a voluptuous Venus in a red dress (Margaret Marshall) and a straight-from-the Playa Phoebus (David Peterson) providing a prologue to bring the audience up to date on what happened in Virgil's version of the story before Purcell's opera begins. Following this, during the overture, the chorus and principals perform a ballet/ pantomime of the fall of Troy and the subsequent chaos in an effective yet succinct way. Particularly striking during this was the evident commitment of the cast to actually act- their faces looking stricken and panicked as they fled across the outdoor space. From that moment forward it was easy to fall under the sway of what unfolded before the audience.
While the entire cast was solid across the board, Kindra Scharich (Dido), Kimarie Torre (Belinda) and Cortez Mitchell (the 1st Witch) truly stood out with terrific vocal and theatrical performances. Milissa Carey was an alluring and, to put it bluntly, highly enticing Sorceress. Purcell didn't give Aeneas too much to work with, but Todd Wedge brought a sensitivity to the role that worked.
The Urban Opera Chorus had some challenging choreography to execute during the evening, which they handled well and their singing was beautiful.
So this is the bottom line: I don't know if we'll ever see another production from this team, led by Chip Grant and Kue King, but I hope we do. There is a dedication and imagination on display in this production from every corner that really impressed me. You have two more chances to see it this weekend- so get yourself a ticket. This really is urban opera- and it's something different, sophisticated and well worth your time.