Making an opera feel relevant to the present day and captivating to the audience is always a difficult task. Making an opera that is over three hundred years old relevant and captivating is nothing short of a masterpiece. Unfortunately, Oper Frankfurt did not quite succeed in this. Accompanied by a small ensemble with authentic instrumentation, Barrie Kosky’s take on Purcell’s Baroque opera Dido & Aeneas simply felt a bit too ridiculous at times. Unnecessary nudity and costumes that gave the feel of a fancy dress party all too often distracted from the story. Vocally, Paula Murrihy’s interpretation of Dido was exceptional and gripping, especially during the third act. The three witches were just as enticing, although sometimes overshadowed by their own acting.
Second in this double bill was Bela Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. Unlike the interpretation of Dido & Aeneas, Oper Frankfurt did a splendid job of creating the ideal setting for Bartók’s music to shine. Minimalist both in the mise-en-scène and costumes, Bartók’s opulent music took centre stage. By using very few props and an absolutely blank stage, Kosky deliberately relied on the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps; a fitting decision considering Bluebeard’s Castle’s expressionist style.
Both Robert Hayward and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, in the roles of Bluebeard and Judith respectively, impressed with their stellar vocal performances. Although some of the settings and acting needed further explanation, this was almost always done by dialogue, and is only a minor blemish in an otherwise captivating performance.
All in all, this unique double bill offered the audience to see opera in two completely different ways. Even though the interpretations were slightly disappointing at times, the evening nevertheless showcased some great operatic talent.
Antonia Landi for Edfestmag