Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2013

Mark Morris Dance Group

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 31-August 1, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Choreographer Mark Morris took his annual Tanglewood engagement to a new level this year by directing an innovative double bill of two one-act operas by English masters: Britten’s “Curlew River” (part of Tanglewood’s observance of that composer’s centennial) and Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” Morris’s production of Dido was introduced in 1989, but the Britten was a world premiere.

Mark Morris
The first of three “parables for church performance” that Britten composed in the 1960s, the hour-long “Curlew River” is based on the medieval Japanese No play “Sumidagawa.” The moving story of a mother searching for her lost son is told by a group of monks, several of whom play solo roles in the drama. The thirteen singer/actors and seven instrumentalists were all Tanglewood Music Center fellows who intermingled on the stage of Ozawa Hall, set only with benches draped in white cloth, matching the performers’ simple costumes.

Everyone brilliantly captured the exotic, otherworldly quality of the austere music, and while all the featured soloists were compelling, the overwhelming emotional force of tenor Isaiah Bell’s performance as the “Madwoman” (the mother) deserves special praise. 

Stefan Asbury conducted the Purcell piece, which featured dancers on stage, while twelve chorus members, three vocal soloists, and thirteen instrumentalists, performed on the balcony above. Each character was thus portrayed simultaneously on two levels by a singer and a dancer.

Morris’s choreography expressed the varying moods of the drama in apt and imaginative ways. The chorus’s hearty cackles in Scene 2 were amplified by the dancers’ reckless abandon in the dance of the furies. Their individual slow-motion exits in Dido’s concluding death scene were deeply moving. The entire ensemble was again impressive, but Laurel Lynch (Dido) and Spencer Ramirez (Aeneas) danced most outstandingly. Soprano Marie Marquis (a perky Belinda), mezzo-soprano Samantha Malk (a lush Dido), and baritone Steven Eddy (a commanding Aeneas) sang most eloquently.