Opera comes alive at the Masonic Temple

Michael Thompson (right) and Bethany Loock portray Dido and Aeneas during a rehearsal for Friday nights opera at the Masonic Center.

Trevor Alveshere / Dakota Student

Michael Thompson (right) and Bethany Loock portray Dido and Aeneas during a rehearsal for Friday night’s opera at the Masonic Center.

Devon Abler, Arts & Community Editor

Grand Forks was graced with the presence of the biannual operatic performance by the UND Vocal Department on Friday. In collaboration with the UND Chamber Orchestra and the Masonic Temple, this was a pleasant addition to Friday night festivities.

The opera, ‘Dido and Aeneas,’ was written by English composer Henry Purcell. This is rather uncommon as a majority of operas were written by Italian or German composers and were sung in their respective languages. ‘Dido and Aeneas’ is unusual because it is an opera sung in English.

Operatic works are known for being long and elaborate; Dido and Aeneas is a short, three movement work that lasts approximately an hour. Two years ago, the music department performed ‘Cendrillon,’ which was a lavish affair that dazzled the community with a spectacular show. This operatic performance, while it was excellent, was lacking in comparison.

Building an excellent opera begins with the cast. Undergraduate students performed the opera after an intense rehearsal period. Students from different majors within the music department came together to collaborate with one another. Individuals studying music education and vocal performance became professionals during this night of music.  

“The opera was a 4 month project,” Michael Thompson, singing the role of Aeneas said. “We started early music rehearsals in January, staging in February, began singing with the orchestra at the end of March and put the show on at the end of April.  Although group rehearsal started in January, most of the cast started looking at the music before the semester started.”

The cast did a fabulous job transporting the audience members back in time to Renaissance Greece. Using costumes created by local individuals and backdrops that depicted what was occuring in the music, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the salty air or looming storm.

‘Dido and Aeneas’ is the story of a young woman named Dido, played by Bethany Look, who is heartbroken over the death of her husband. She feels that she will never be able to love again until the heroic Aeneas comes ashore her country. As they grow closer together and romance is kindled, an evil sorceress plots against their happiness.

The sorceress gathers her spirits in the forest and they devise a plan to separate the two lovers. While the lovers are picnicing in the forest, the sorceress’ storm begins to form. This causes the group to gather along with Aeneas and his men to set sail back to their homeland.

The decision to sail back across the sea was a sudden decision made by Aeneas. His sailors round up any sailors that they can find in port. While they are loading the ships, Aeneas returns to Dido’s court to say farewell. Feeling emotionally used by Aeneas, Dido shuns his farewell and throws him out of court only to realize that she is destined to die from a broken heart, then dies after giving her last wishes to her courtiers.

Every student filled each scene with convincing passion. Emotions were felt and the audience members erupted in applause after the end of each movement. The music department received a standing ovation at the end of the performance and “Bravo, Bravissiomo!” could be heard from the balcony.

Collaborating with an orchestra is no easy feat, especially when each singer is performing without microphones. Finding a delicate balance between not-too-loud and not-too-quiet is difficult, however the orchestra worked with the opera members with a fluidity that only professional musicians could achieve.

“It has been a dream of mine to conduct this work and now it is a dream come true,” Alejandro Drago, the director of the orchestra program, said.

It was clear that the musicians were passionate and dedicated to making music together. Not only was this a learning experience for the cast members, it is also a time to make musical memories that will last a lifetime.

“My favorite part of being in the opera is being with the cast and directors every day,” Thompson said. “Many great memories were made in the process of rehearsing.  It’s all helped by the fact that I am surrounded by people who, just like me care about our success, and love what they do. There is no feeling like holding hands on the final bow of a show with all of the people that helped make it happen.”

Most musical concerts and recitals occur on campus at the Josephine Campbell Recital Hall, the Chester Fritz Auditorium, or at the Empire Theater. This opera production was in an unfamiliar space located downtown.

“I think the biggest difference for me this year was the involvement and the venue,” Thompson said.  “Every rehearsal was an adventure in improvement and required constant work and focus. The venue this year was the Masonic Temple in Grand Forks and it was such a pleasure performing in that space.  The acoustics, the hand painted backdrops and the beauty of the hall added to the performance.”

While this opera was lacking compared to past productions, it was a well put together performance that still brought the professionalism and expertise the community has come to expect from the UND music department.

Devon Abler is the A&C editor for Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].