Legendary love affair rides in from the west

By William Dart

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Soprano Amy Jansen sings the role of Dido, Queen of Carthage in Opera Unstuck's  Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed . Picture / Priscilla Northe
Soprano Amy Jansen sings the role of Dido, Queen of Carthage in Opera Unstuck's Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed . Picture / Priscilla Northe

Frances Moore and Alex Taylor's daringly dished up Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed has come into town from the west with its original gusto intact.

Last year, the first production travelled around the cool galleries of the new Te Uru Waitakere; on Tuesday night we explored the darker spaces of the Basement Theatre.

"Love's a bitch" is the tagline on press releases, but it might also have been "Revenge is a riot", as a legendary love affair is sabotaged by a gaggle of shrieking witches, memorably led by Taylor, in dominatrix drag. Zapping a 17th century Purcell opera into 2016, Moore incites her cast to investigate every possibility of stage business in a most entertaining theatrical divertissement. From the physical intimacy of the lovelorn Dido and her handmaidens to the malign witches, whom we meet in the foyer with a malevolent Sorceress towering over the bar, this was gripping stuff.

Purcell's Grove scene, set upstairs in the studio theatre, mixed bowers of flowers, furious storms and the wayward evil sisters, with strains of House of the Rising Sun and Stravinsky's Rite running through the music.

Amy Jansen was a moving and very human Dido, with Tamsyn Matchett a nimbly solicitous Belinda and Barbara Paterson ably completing the trio. Rhys Hingston again met the challenge of playing the noble Aeneas as well as dispensing randy mischief.

Musically, there was roughness around the edges, but the sheer energy of performance and invention carried the evening. Choruses with singers simultaneously on and off stage can be tricky, and the ensemble will no doubt tighten up during the week under the direction of the singing, fiddling and conducting Taylor.

The drawcard for some will be the ingenuity of Taylor's rejigging and few opera houses would use a Bill Evans waltz or a John Grant ballad to segue between scenes. Taylor can cook up chaos with chutzpah, but also gives us ear candy in the ethereal keyboard scales and appropriately bewitching electric bass.

Concert review

What: Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed

Where and when: Basement Theatre, until Sunday

Reviewer: William Dart

- NZ Herald

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