Ancient and modern elements are oddly but beautifully blended in this production, which presents a cutting-edge modern dance interpretation of the oldest English opera still in the active repertoire, Dido and Aeneas. Purcell took his subject from The Aeneid, Virgil's Latin epic about the destruction of Troy and the founding of Rome by a party of refugees from the fallen city. In the episode chosen by Purcell (by far the best-known in the lengthy poem), Aeneas, leader of the Trojan refugees, lands at Carthage, falls in love with the city's widowed Queen Dido, but goes on to fulfill his destiny in Italy while the abandoned queen commits suicide. Tafelmusik, an excellent Canadian chamber orchestra, performs baroque music with the distinctive sound of period instruments. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane sings the dual roles of Dido and the jealous sorceress whose spells destroy the queen's liaison with Aeneas. These roles are both danced by Mark Morris. The video production gives occasional glimpses of singers, but the overwhelming emphasis is, rightly, on the dancing.
Morris is equally impressive as a solo dancer and a choreographer. He has given his ensemble a strikingly expressive choreographic vocabulary, with gestures that are rooted in spontaneous body language and frequently call to mind ancient Greco-Roman visual arts. He is one of the relatively few choreographers who actually listen to the music and translate it precisely into stage action. His treatment of Dido and Aeneas is a classic, and the film directing of Barbara Willis Sweete preserves its classic qualities. --Joe McLellan
A danced opera. This adaptation of the critically acclaimed and provocative dance production by Mark Morris takes a fresh and controversial approach to the baroque operatic masterwork written in 1689 by Henry Purcell. Dido, the noble Queen of Carthage, has fallen in love with the Trojan Prince Aeneas. While the court celebrates the imminent union of the two monarchs, the evil sorceress with her coven of witches plots their downfall. Romance leads to heartbreak and tragedy. Dido and Aeneas stars Mark Morris himself in the dual roles of Dido and the sorceress, and the supporting roles are performed by the incomparable Mark Morris Dance Group. Tafelmusik, the award-winning Toronto-based baroque orchestra, provides accompaniment to a superb cast of vocal soloists, including the great American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane as the singing counterpart to Mark Morris.