YardArts! Opera goes baroque
One of the Vineyard's most remarkable attributes is its ability to attract and host world-class cosmopolitan events that resonate with the Island's sensibilities. YardArts! Opera is an ideal illustration: a performance by world-class talent in one of the Island's unique settings.
This is the second week of the two-week presentation of "Kings, Queens, Witches & Drunks" and Henry Purcell's English baroque opera "Dido and Aeneas," part of YardArts! 2009 Festival of Dance, Theater, Music and Opera founded by the company's artistic director, Wendy Taucher, in 2005. Ms. Taucher says Purcell's piece is one of her favorites, and it seems ideal for this production given its size and length.
YardArts! Opera debuted last summer to an enthusiastic reception when Ms. Taucher first collaborated with musical director Elizabeth Scott of the Bronx Opera Company. Their production of "Dido and Aeneas" is on a larger scale, comprised of a string quartet, a keyboard and 17 singers, most of them based in New York.
The production is comprised of two parts. "Kings, Queens, Witches & Drunks" is a compilation of six individual arias that are fitting introductions to opera: brief recognizable "showstoppers" that reveal the dynamic abilities of the cast. For the uninitiated, these pieces are a hint for what is to come.
The 35-minute opera that follows, "Dido and Aeneas," is an interpretation of Virgil's classic story of love and despair. The narrative begins in Carthage where Dido is love-stricken over a lost husband. She falls in love with the Trojan hero Aeneas (who goes on to found Rome) until fate tears the lovers apart and Dido is again left victim of a broken heart.
Despite its tragic narrative, the opera is filled with fanciful and even comedic quirks. In one scene, three witches who embody mischief conspire to tear the lovers apart in a mixture of drama and jest. In another, a drunken sailor calls his incapacitated crew to prepare a ship for Aeneas's departure.
The opera combines interpretive dance and dramatic narrative - movement that represents thunder and lightning and being aboard a ship. Tenor Noah Stewart, who plays Aeneas, speaks of Ms. Taucher's artistic direction and vision: "I've never met a director quite like her. Her imagination is fantastic." He adds, "Before TV and Internet, people told stories, and that's what this is about."
Ms. Taucher has a 25-year background in producing, choreographing, directing, and writing. She says that this piece is good for a choreographer because of its instrumental aspects as well as the range of characters it features. "Working with the extremes of the piece is really what interests me," she says.
The Yard was founded in 1973 by Patricia Nanon, an established choreographer and dancer who had a vision of creating a "playground without walls" where artistic pursuits could be explored and developed. After more than 30 years, the organization maintains its mission while continually expanding its offerings. The Yard's four-week residency program provides artists with the means to explore their craft uninhibited. The company also hosts a medley of adult and children's classes in various fields of dance, movement and music.
Ms. Scott, a former summer resident, acknowledges the rarity of this class of opera. "The quality of the singers and instrumentalists is extraordinarily high," she says. "It is very special that this can happen on the Vineyard. An opera such as this is typically staged in an 800-person opera house."
Here the audience sits in a small rustic Chilmark barn that seats a maximum of 100 people on tiers of folding plastic chairs: an intimate community being treated to a sophisticated professional performance.
YardArts! Opera presents "Dido and Aeneas," and "Kings, Queens, Witches, and Drunks," 8 pm, The Yard, Chilmark. Also Aug. 14, 15, 16. Tickets, $15-$100. 508-645-9662; dancetheyard.org.
Samantha McCoy is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.