• Music review: 325-year-old opera still a hit
    By Jim Lowe
     | February 11,2013
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    The Oriana Singers, with the Burlington Ensemble, directed by William Metcalfe, performed Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” on Saturday afternoon in Burlington.

    BURLINGTON — Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is perhaps England’s greatest native-born composer – Handel, after all, was German – and his 1687 opera “Dido and Aeneas” is his best-known work.

    The Oriana Singers and the Burlington Ensemble, conducted by William Metcalfe, collaborated in a performance Saturday afternoon at the College Street Congregational Church. Although beset with some of the weaknesses of community opera, the performance was spirited storytelling – with some beautiful performances.

    The Burlington Ensemble, a professional troupe of area instrumentalists that donates 90 percent of box office proceeds to charity, and recently became ensemble in residence at Castleton State College, also performed two short one-movement string quartets by Vermont high school-age composers.

    “Dido and Aeneas,” with its libretto by Nahum Tate, recounts the love of Dido, queen of Carthage, and the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. As with most Baroque opera, with the exception of Claudio Monteverdi, this one is pageant-like rather than dramatic, with a somewhat silly story. Of course, it ends tragically.

    The Oriana Singers’ production was staged minimally, directed by Jane Beaumont Snyder, but there was some charming imagination used. In particular, two outstanding dancers – Stephanie Heaghney and Kyle Bouchard – added dramatic color to the performance.

    Soprano Jill Hallett Levis, a veteran soloist, sang effectively and dramatically, successfully delivering Dido’s intense feelings. Tenor William Bickford, a musical theater veteran, gave a most lyrical and heartfelt performance as her lover Aeneas – with amazing diction.

    Metcalfe’s Oriana Singers, as a chorus, delivered a rich, warm and beautiful performance, while those acting as soloists had mixed results. The professional string quartet from the Burlington Ensemble, plus Elizabeth Metcalfe on harpsichord, performed effectively and stylishly, thanks much to William Metcalfe’s experienced direction.

    Saturday afternoon’s concert opened with members of the Burlington Ensemble performing two one-movement string quartets from the Music-COMP composition mentoring program.

    The String Quartet in d minor, by North Country Union High School (Newport) student Adele Woodmansee, was rich, warm and lyrical with traditional tonalities, imaginatively given a sense of movement by pizzicato or repeated notes. “The Greed Potion,” a programmatic work by Mount Abraham Union High School (Bristol) student Nico Salas, proved dramatic and quite striking with its varying dissonant and consonant harmonies.

    Interestingly, the Saturday afternoon concert packed the College Street Congregational Church – and the audience couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.

    Burlington Ensemble

    The Burlington Ensemble, with the South Burlington High School Chorus directed by Aimee Bushey, will perform Vivaldi’s “Gloria” at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington. For information, go online to www.burlingtonensemble.com.

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