La Didone

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
La Didone
FIT FOR A QUEEN Chinn, left, entertains a suitor.

Photograph: Paula Court

Opera has always been a glorious mutt—even if its owners insist that it's purebred. From the art form's post-Renaissance origins as courtly entertainment up through the popular genius of Mozart and the totalizing grandeur of Wagner, opera acolytes have tried to efface its essentially unstable, hybrid nature and argue for a unique aesthetic. You could say that opera, in trying to unify the arts—fashion, music, drama and dance—was multidisciplinary and postmodern before such terms existed.

Now the ace hybridizers of the Wooster Group offer a waggish deconstruction of Francesco Cavalli's La Didone (1641), which does the purists no favors. Even Gertrude Stein, who stretched the boundaries of the form, would never have thought to interlace Cavalli's Baroque semitragedy with a cheesy 1965 sci-fi movie (Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires). But director Elizabeth LeCompte has triumphed again, creating a synapse-tickling performance vocabulary with her ensemble that links the legend of Dido and Aeneas to a crew of astronauts battling space zombies for control of something called a "meteor rejector." The cast wears clingy silver space suits, but half of them break out into heavenly bel canto song, while the nonsingers speak deadpan wooden dialogue underneath. The result partly mocks opera conventions but also sharply realigns the themes of imperialism and love as an infection.

Normally at a Wooster Group show, you marvel over the hypnotic intensity of Kate Valk, the effortlessly wry Scott Shepherd and the athletic gusto of Ari Fliakos. They're all here, still marvelous, but the real star is mezzo-soprano and Wooster newcomer Hai-Ting Chinn, who plays Cupid-struck Queen Dido. Chinn has it all: breathtaking beauty, poise, comic timing and a voice of pure gold. The Group may tweak opera, but this time, a bona fide diva rules them all.—David Cote

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St. Ann's Warehouse. Music by Francesco Cavalli. Libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello. Dir. Elizabeth LeCompte. With ensemble cast. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.