By Dorian Grayson
If “Family Feud” polled 100 people and asked, “top saturday night activitiess,” I’d imagine the top responses would be dancing, partying and drinking. Watching a Performance of Henry Purcell’s Only Opera, “Dido and Aeneas,” probably wouldn’t even be one response. But students filled around half of Smith Auditorium Saturday night for another performance of the Music and Theatre Department’s production of the opera.
The production started off tremendously, with the string quartet setting the somber mood of the scene. The lighting designer wasn’t afraid to match this by washing out the party scene at the beginning. As Dido wandered around the stage, struck by her grief, the production team enabled her performance and all the others.
This thematic matching was enabled by the set, which was a great piece of design. It was symmetrical enough to be appealing, but asymmetrical enough not to be bland. It evoked the setting and themes while also being exceedingly practical with many layers for the actors to be on, as well as an elevated section built into the scene.
Dynamic lighting throughout the piece helped convey the tone and feed interest, while also letting the set be even more flexible. Occasionally, actors would hit their marks and have overbearing shadows cast behind them, an example of the collaboration that went into the production.
Costuming made sure every character was distinct and believable, with vibrant costumes when applicable. They also must have been working very closely with the choreographer and director. During the most ominous scene of the piece, the dancers’ unsettling movement was enabled and accentuated by their costuming, making their elbows point out in the black cloth.
Of course, the whole thing wasn’t just picnics and sunshine. There were missed cues here and there, but nothing more than expected. Additionally, the singers seemed to prioritize tone quality over making themselves understandable, which led to instances where it was hard to tell what was being sung.
But truly, everyone involved put in great amounts of effort. Every actor gave not only a great vocal performance, but an excellent physical one as well, making the characters’ actions and emotions clear in every scene.
Leni Heumann did an amazing job in her role as Belinda, Dido’s sister, as she scrambles to make her sister happy. Oakley Chiappisi-Livermore properly conveyed the stateliness of Aeneas.
However, the real star of the show was Olga Valdes, who played Dido, a freshman making her debut theatrical performance. Her voice filled the auditorium as she sung the highs and lows of the story, impressing the humanity of the tragedy on the audience. The final lament brought chills and despair. I can only speak for the cast I saw, but I’m sure that the others did just as well.
It was impressive just how well the production crew and cast worked together on this. At the helm of the project was the director, Professor Allison Swenson-Mitchell, and Professor Chris Engbretson, the conductor.
“I enjoyed the dedication Allison and Chris had to making us sound good,” said Kathryn Bordona, a member of the opera’s chorus.
Overall, the collaboration was not only a success from the excellent work that was put in, but also as an experience for the audience. Hopefully these departments will come together again.