Saturday night, the Columbia Bach Society put on a performance of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Bwog sent our trusty opera extraordinaire Alexandra Svokos to check out the show and report. We all know this Alexandra can’t say no to a good opera.
Space at Columbia is likely the performing art community’s greatest challenge. It was a major player last night at the Columbia Bach Society’s performance of (get out your Lit Hum notebook) Dido and Aeneas, a (get out your Music Hum notebook) Baroque opera by Henry Purcell. They performed the hour-long piece in St. Paul’s Chapel, with (get out your Art Hum notebook) its symmetrical, domed ceiling making haunting echoes of the music bouncing of all walls. The acoustics created an airy, mystical atmosphere for each voice, adding to Virgil’s legend.
But the acoustics weren’t the only aspect of space that played a major role in this performance. Due to some classic bureaucracy issues, the group was unable to remove two rows of seats. This meant a smaller performance area – there is no stage in the chapel; they performed at the front of the altar. For us in the front row this provided an unusual immersive experience as the singers brushed our feet and sang half a foot away from us.
As this was a Bach Society production, director Chris Browner, CC ’16, Spec opera reviewer and young opera fan icon of yore, decided to showcase the orchestra. Led by a marvelously expressive William Yu, SEAS ’17, on violin as concertmaster, the nine musicians were placed in the center of the “stage.” The singers moved in circles around the orchestra, often singing behind them from steps up on the altar. This became an issue for some singers who could not get their voices above the orchestra from behind, although the building’s acoustics gave them a little boost.