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Opera Lab premieres a modernized Dido and Aeneas

Modern Dido Scores with Modern Interpretation

PURCELL'S DIDO AND AENEAS

The Opera Lab.

At The Church of Our Saviour.

25 Monmouth St., Brookline.

Remaining performances May 12 and 13 at

8:00, May 14 at 3:00.

By DAVID M. J. SASLAV

[GFI]N ITS PREMIERE PRODUCTION, the Opera Lab company has positioned itself squarely and pleasingly in the realm of the avant garde. By casting a performance of the baroque opera Dido and Aeneas in a mental hospital, with the principal characters being patients under the delusion that they are Dido and Aeneas, director Craig Wich displays an amazing interpretive agility. While Purcell never knew what a "boardroom meeting" was, Wich does -- and one result is a remarkably chilling transformation of the standard Greek chorus into a body of disinterested corporate observers.

The transformations, however, do not end there. Dido's confidantes, Belinda and the Second Woman, are here a clinical psychotherapist and a wet nurse. Both play their roles by humoring the troubled "Dido." It's clear from their expressions that both have given up trying to bring the patient back to reality and have resigned themselves to keeping her happy by playing along with her fantasies. Beldam the Sorceress becomes a striptease dancer, and Cupid's arrow becomes a hypodermic syringe, and the sailors become hospital orderlies, bent on having a good time as they work.

To be sure, the analogy is at times strained. The numerous roles required by the chorus constrain their ability to don new costumes, and so we find the Sorceress' trusty spirits wearing much the same garb as the detached boardroom chorus. Aeneas' departure, sparked by an ostensibly imaginary voice in his head, is preceded by a physical cure of miraculous proportions. And Dido's death of a broken heart in the end seems to have no modern grounding whatsoever.

But these are not major detractions, surely. The intimacy of the audience seating (fewer than forty chairs, arranged in four long columns emanating from the stage), some spectacular lighting and choreography, and wonderful singing from the principals are more than enough to overcome these problems. The chorus could certainly use a conductor in order to synchronize better with the three instrumentalists (and themselves, as well), but the staging prohibited the placement of a centralized "director."

Finally, the singing itself is impeccable. Of particular distinction are Amelia Broome as Belinda, Kathryn Carlson in the title role of Dido, and Hamutal Lulav as the Sorceress. Nearly everyone who opened their mouths to sing had to do so from outrageous postures and during strenuous movement; the control and focus necessary to pull off such vocal production is monumental. And the insight and interpretive ability required to put on this kind of dramatic production are unique. Craig Wich has assembled an unforgettable Dido which should be seen by far more people than the limited seating will allow.