Toronto Masque Theatre, under Artistic Director Larry Beckwith, has a mandate to blend the performing arts together to recreate the ethos of a Renaissance or Baroque masque while not being chained to any period. TMT's latest show was an inspired double bill of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and the world premiere of Aeneas and Dido by composer James Rolfe and librettist Andre Alexis.
Both operas look at the love affair between the widowed Queen of Carthage and her Trojan visitor, and Aeneas's betrayal of that love. Cleverly, the new opera deliberately used the same vocal types and chorus as Purcell, duplicating the instruments of that composer's small Baroque ensemble. It was a winning combination.
Rolfe's opera contains his customary attractive arioso rather than clear melody lines, and his always-interesting orchestration. He verges on the discordant, but only for emotional emphasis. Alexis has written a very sophisticated libretto, exploring the subtext of the Purcell/Nahum Tate opera. If the latter is more direct and emotional, the new opera is a torrent of dense language and an incisive deconstruction of a relationship. There was one slight change. In Purcell, the villain is the vindictive sorceress who conjures mischief out of her hate for Dido; in the Rolfe/Alexis opera, Aeneas dreams of Mercury and his duty to settle in Italy. An amusing figure of the dream Goat also urges Aeneas to his destiny. In fact, the new opera abounds in droll humor. …