Sunday, March 9, 2014

Peace and she are strangers grown

I had the pleasure Saturday evening of seeing Columbia University Bach Society's semi-staged presentation of dear Mr. Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, in Columbia's beautiful St. Paul's Chapel. Dido is a typical sailor temporary love story, except the sailor is a prince and ship's captain and the wronged maiden is a queen.

Devon Mehring
Since its founding in 1999, the Bach Society has been a student-led orchestra and chorus, and has presented some ambitious programs, published recordings, and made concert tours. This is the first performance by the group I have seen. Because it is a student-conducted, student-directed production and all the singers are very young, one can forgive ragged patches, errant intonation in singers and orchestra, and balance issues.

It is easy to forgive these flaws largely because of the amazingly fresh, young talent in most of these singers. First and foremost I must mention the beautiful Devon Mehring, who sang Dido. In vocal tone and polish, in commitment to her character, and in stage demeanor, she was head and shoulders above her cast mates. Her final aria "When I am laid in earth", the moment for which anyone who knows Dido and Aeneas waits, was riveting. Young Miss Mehring's bio-blurb lists some impressive accomplishments for a college junior--actually, for any young singer!--and I do hope we will see a lot of her in operatic circles in years to come!

Isaac Assor
Also a very strong performer, also easy on the eyes, was Isaac Assor, the evening's Aeneas. Although much of the role doesn't fit his voice, those sections where he used his high voice were glorious. As with most of the cast, I believe his performance would have been even better with a stronger director.

Another standout performer was Christine Rosenblatt as the First Witch, who dons the disguise of Mercury to lure Aeneas back out to sea. Her singing was quite good, and her commitment to her limited character was quite visible. Another young lady for whom I foresee great things.

It is not a coincidence that the three I mention as standouts had the most experience prior to this show, but I don't wish to suggest by omission that any cast member lacked promise. Casting on the whole was uneven, which is typical for any student or young professional level endeavor, and it was very clear how young these singers are. Other quibbles? Of course, but again, for a student-led production, I believe it was quite good. I did enjoy being there.

Aside from a brief acknowledgement to two faculty members in the program, there was no mention of faculty involvement in program or web site. One does not wish to disparage the great accomplishment of this production, but one still wonders whether more faculty involvement, if only on an advisory level, wouldn't be a good thing.

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