A night at the opera, without all that opera
By Stephen Brookes
Monday, November 19, 2012
There’s a lot to be said for downsizing opera. Pare away the usual excesses -- the cavernous halls, the lavish sets, the high-priced superstars and the general over-the-topness -- and you can take more risks, showcase emerging performers and present music on a more intimate, up-close-and-personal scale.
And the approach works, to judge by Saturday night’s sold-out performance of “Pocket Opera x 2: Love and Witchcraft,” two entertaining “mini-operas” presented by the In Series at the tiny Source Theater on 14th Street NW. The two works couldn’t be more different. Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” is a charming baroque masterpiece with an almost comically tragic end, while Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” (“Love by Sorcery”) is not even an opera at all but a searing dance suite written in a 20th-century Andalusian gypsy style.
But it was an inspired combination. Mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello took the lead in both works, bringing a dark, moving passion to the role of Dido, the queen of Carthage, who is torn from her lover Aeneas (a solid Robert Yacoviello) by witches and the will of the gods. Despite a dauntingly minimal set -- a chaise longue, a few sticks and a galvanized steel bucket -- a fine young cast largely made up of local singers and dancers brought “Dido and Aeneas” alive with charm and lighthearted wit. A string quartet under the direction of harpsichordist Paul Leavitt delivered a spirited reading of the score. Adrienne Starr made a deliciously evil and feline Sorceress, and soprano Tia Wortham’s hysterical turn as Mercury was worth the price of admission on its own.
It was Castrello’s evening, though, as she proved in the Falla piece. With music director Carlos Rodriguez at the piano, she sang the role of Candelas -- a woman trying to rid herself of the ghost of her dead lover -- with elemental, smoldering heat, as dancers Heidi Kershaw and Kyle Lang swirled around the blood-red set in a passionate pas de deux. A fine and often moving evening all around, “Love and Witchcraft” continues through Nov. 26.