Dido and Aeneas:
Natural Opera in Pasadena
By Glen Creason
It is amazing how the Celestial Opera Company of Pasadena can produce an expansive show in such an intimate setting while still staying right to the essence of the original work of art. In the case of my Sunday matinee visit the featured work was the 17th century English opera “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell which left out no small details in a really impressive hour of Baroque music and marvelous singing. “Dido” would fit right in with today’s cinematic leanings toward ancient myth and a dash of the occult. The story revolves around Dido, the Queen of Carthage’s ill-fated romance with the Trojan hero Aeneas as described in book four of Virgil’s Aeneid. The poor lovers are doomed as an evil sorceress and her witch cohorts bewitch Aeneas’ tricking him into leaving the queen behind to take a sea voyage that will mean his end both romantically and mortally. It is surprising that Steven Spielberg hasn't optioned this one already.
Despite the fact that the opera is decidedly tragic it keeps to a lively plot that is revealed with fine arias and memorable characters, aided by a traditional Greek chorus that advances the plot and provides counter-point to the chicanery of the sorceress and her minions. At the center of this production is the glorious singing of Tamora Pellikka, a luminescent mezzo-soprano with voice enough for grand halls but here using the intimacy of the un-amplified wood interior of this small hall to make her first aria “Ah Belinda” shimmer with passion and longing. Several other singers were outstanding in the production including Kristen Speck as the confidante Belinda, the youthful but solid Glenn Fernandez as Aeneas and a truly wicked Jessica Mamey as the Sorceress. Also, amidst the gloom Britta Sterling brought some levity to the music as the Sailor who happily sings “Come Away Fellow Sailors.” All three witches filled their deliciously dark roles well including Allison Coop, Marcela Pan and Jessica Anne Pierce who dreamily dances while Dido’s dreams die.
Still, the power of this particular opera hinges on the difficult and profoundly sad final aria “When I Am Laid” which Ms. Pellikka made into a deeply moving lament that required subtlety and command of voice close to perfection. She was more than up to the task and when Aeneas returns to say farewell and finds her lifeless form the audience has forgotten that they are in a hall in Pasadena, instead grieving for the bewitched and now bereft young man and his lost love, gone forever. This aria sung by such a talented young mezzo-soprano must be considered one of the most moving in all of opera. The venue was small and simple but this production fully dressed and true to the three-century-old tragedy, made Purcell’s masterpiece come to life in living color. Bravo Celestial Opera Company, once again.