In their two showings of “Dido and Aeneas” and “Bessie and Ma” this past weekend, UConn Opera showcased all of their performers’ extensive talent. The operas’ differing subject matter and casts of diverse characters allowed the singers to uniquely perform their roles and give the audience an amazing performance.
In their first opera, Henry Purcell’s classic “Dido and Aeneas,” the singers performed the tragic love story of the widowed queen of Carthage and the Trojan hero. Evil spirits conspired to tear the lovers apart and made Aeneas think the gods wanted him to leave Carthage and Dido. Crushed by the knowledge that Aeneas must leave, Dido sent him away, even after he said he would break his promise to the gods and stay with her. Once she was alone with her sister Belinda, Dido admitted her pain and died of a broken heart.
The set design was simple yet effective. A wall covered in golden tiles perfectly represented the inside of Dido’s palace. The shimmering tiles reflected the bright stage lights in times of Dido’s joy and faded into the background when the lights dimmed or a single light focused in on the forsaken queen.
The costuming for this opera was carefully chosen to bring ancient Greece and Carthage to life. The chorus wore loose tunic-like outfits. Many of the women in the opera braided parts of their hair and wore accessories to resemble what members of the queen’s palace might have looked like. Some of the women even wore sparkly makeup that made the opera seem like a myth come alive.
The audience agreed the singing and acting in “Dido and Aeneas” was superb. Throughout the opera, Shelley Roberts’ singing and expressions perfectly captured Dido’s emotions. During the scene of Dido’s death, Roberts exquisitely portrayed Dido’s grief. Greg Flower, who played Aeneas, similarly captivated the audience with his resounding baritone.
“I thought it was really awesome,” second-semester ACES student Allison Tomaszewski said. “I was invited by my friend, so I wasn’t even sure how I would feel about opera, but that was so good, and I’m in the choir, so I definitely appreciate music, and I felt like that end scene was so beautiful — that was just awesome … I loved it.”
After “Dido and Aeneas,” the Opera performed Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize for Composition winner Douglas Buchanan’s “Bessie and Ma,” the story of African-American aviatrix Bessie Coleman and Texas’ first woman governor “Ma” Ferguson. This opera was more like a musical, juxtaposing Ma’s rise to power with Bessie’s. While Ma originally seemed to be a puppet governor controlled by her husband, Bessie’s brother discouraged her from flying. Both women had to contend with society’s opinions of their capability and propriety, ultimately showing the men in their life that they could get the job done.
The opera came to a climax at Bessie and Ma’s meeting for tea, where Ma assured Bessie that she needn’t stick to only a high-flying talent show. Bessie took Ma’s advice to heart, vowing to try something new after her next flying tour. Unfortunately, Bessie never got the chance because she fell out of her plane when it rolled over in the air.
When Ma heard this news, she felt saddened but was reminded of Bessie’s courage and announced her campaign to be governor for a second term, much to the dismay of her husband.
The set for this opera was similarly simple, using what looked like a regular wall for a backdrop and occasionally projecting clouds onto it to represent the sky. Costuming for this opera took a cue from 1920s style: Women wore drop-waist dresses, and the male reporters wore boater hats and old-fashioned suits.
Overall, the audience found the two operas and the singers themselves to be quite impressive.
“I think they were really well acted,” eighth-semester psychology and political science major Alexandria Sauls said of the two operas. “I’ve never been to an opera before, so I kind of forgot they were singing the whole time, but I thought it was really creative. And thinking about the talent you need to sustain that for 45 minutes … I think it was crazy, but it was nice.”
Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.