Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Reviews

Burn, baby, burn: Crucible interpretation of 'Dido' is en fuego

Opera Preview based on the dress rehearsal from The Oakland Tribune and The Alameda Times-Star, with headline above, Friday, January 16, 2004

By Cheryl North

Is it possible for a Baroque opera to catch fire with a 2004 audience? Well, that's what happened Wednesday in West Oakland when Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" ignited and fascinated the minds and sensibilities of its audience during a full dress rehearsal at The Crucible Arena/Theater. The old 17th century war horse opera will do that and more during its opening night Gala Reception, Art Auction and Performance at 6:30 tonight and at a subsequent performance and post-performance party at 8 p.m. Saturday.

While opera audiences of the late 17th and 18th centuries were enamored of the intricate sets and elaborate stage mechanics used in their opera performances, Crucible's "Dido and Aeneas" outdoes anything you could imagine. The production features four excellent singers, three of whom are from the San Francisco Opera, and choir and orchestra members of The San Francisco Bach Soloists all performing under the baton of a baroque music specialist, maestro Jeffrey Thomas. Dancing and dazzle is added by Mark Growden, Xeno, the dance group Ultra Gypsy and members of The Crucible faculty and its arts community.

But it also features molten metal casting, glowing hot glass work, welding, torch cutting, fire eating and fire dancing -- all live on stage. The production is even appropriately billed, not as "Dido and Aeneas," but as a "Fire Opera." Add to all the foregoing some of the sexiest dancing to grace an operatic stage from a bevy of lithe, long-tressed young women and beefy males, and you've got a genuinely remarkable show. The costumes, or lack thereof, are memorable and include daring dancers with fiery antlers. Speaking strictly from a serious musical standpoint, the show's quality is right on the mark. And the staging is breathtaking.

With stage direction from San Francisco Opera's Roy Rallo, and with Crucible founder Michael Sturtz serving as producer, the show's revolutionary interpretation casts Dido, the Queen of Carthage (according to Virgil), as her own worst enemy. Program notes describe her as being "drawn to the flames of passion and ultimately destroyed by them."

Singing the role of Dido is SFO Adler fellow mezzo-soprano Katherine Rohrer. Adler fellow Greta Feeney, soprano, sings the role of Belinda, while SFO soloist Shawnette Sulker, soprano, and the fine baritone Rob Stafford sing additional roles. Stage installations are by local artists Michael Christian, Kiki Pettit and others.

I'm not usually an enthusiastic fan of the practice of "updating," adding to or reinterpreting grand opera, but in this uniquely energizing and exciting case, I can only applaud. It's thrill-a-minute opera -- artistically valid, while thoroughly entertaining.

Crucible flyer - Click to enlarge

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