Purcell, Dido and Aeneas

My flight out of Belgrade got canceled, so I snagged one of the last available tickets to tonight’s opera at the Belgrade National Theater: Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell. Although the seat was not so good, the sound traveled easily upstairs, and the performance was quite enjoyable. Rather than the regular opera company, the entire ensemble came from the “Early Music Festival” (no indication when or where this festival is held, however). The orchestra and chorus dressed in seventeenth-century costumes (and make-up), which must have been quite hot and sweaty in the intolerable heatwave afflicting Belgrade right now. Predrag Gosta, the conductor, removed his wig for most of the performance, conducting the orchestra from his harpsichord.

Staging was minimal and costumes were of the period – or at least designed to look like a 17th-century costume for a classical subject. The only odd touch was the projection during intermezzi of battle scenes from an old black-and-white movie, presumably showing Carthage and Rome at war. the chorus, also in the same 17th-century dress like the orchestra, did not take the stage but instead sung from the pit or from the first boxes.

The audience roared with delight at the end. Dido, sung by Dragana Popovic, stood out with her pleasant and expressive soprano, running through all the emotions. The Aeneas (Mihailo Sljivic) and the other soloists did not match her in either the emotional or the tone aspect, but did add to the success through ensemble melding. Bojan Bulatovic/b sang the sorceress in a hammed-up falsetto, clearly enjoying the opportunity.

Everyone looked to be having fun on stage, and such performances are contagious. The opera, written by Purcell for performance in a girl’s school, is simply orchestrated, full of humor despite being a tragedy, and lasts only an hour. Though not a big opera, it made its impact tonight.

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