From Bach Sinfonia & Chantry, a 'Dido' to Die For

The Bach Sinfonia, which has relocated to Silver Spring from Bethesda.
The Bach Sinfonia, which has relocated to Silver Spring from Bethesda. (By Jim Pesci)
Monday, October 30, 2006

The Bach Sinfonia has a new home, Woodside United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, where it opened its season Saturday night with Henry Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas" under Music and Artistic Director Daniel Abraham.

Venue and ensemble have found a good match. There was enough room up front for the crackerjack band plus the soloists and the vocal ensemble Chantry. Yet the relatively intimate space allowed the musicians to fill the church with sound.

Combine that with a stunning turn by soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani as Dido, and the tragedy of Purcell's drama came across forcefully indeed.

The production was not staged, but the uniformly excellent cast did enough acting to underline their characters' motives and foibles, as with mezzo-soprano Margaret Bragle's imperious, spiteful Sorceress, Laura Heimes's good-hearted Belinda, and baritone David Newman's Aeneas, regal in form and voice.

Under Abraham, the Bach Sinfonia sparkled in Purcell's dance interludes and provided adroit accompaniment. Chantry contributed lucid, beautifully weighted singing, commenting on and amplifying the drama.

But this opera ultimately belongs to its Dido, and Kampani's Dido was one to remember. Even among these singers, her voice stood out -- lambent, limpid and lovely across her register, and whether loud or soft.

She harnessed this voice to a striking reading of her character, in which proud, distrustful Dido gives in to the temptation of Aeneas's love and, when Aeneas leaves her, turns her anger on herself for having yielded at all.

Kampani's imaginative phrasing and marvelous control made Dido's famous lament into a window onto her grief-riven soul, and Chantry and the Bach Sinfonia sounded their subsequent eulogies with equal eloquence.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

© 2006 The Washington Post Company