DIDO AND AENEAS (Rhombus/CBC/Morningstar, 1995) w/ Mark Morris, Guillermo Resto, Jennifer Lane and Russell Braun. Rating: NNN
An early English opera, Henry Purcell's elegant Dido And Aeneas recounts the love and breakup of the African queen and the Trojan hero, the latter called away by fate to found Rome.
In Purcell's version, a sorceress breaks up their romance, and choreographer Mark Morris gives a striking twist to his production by performing both Dido and the witch, suggesting that the queen might have engineered her own loss.
There's lots to admire here, including the playing by Tafelmusik and the mostly offscreen singing by Canadian artists Russell Braun, Ann Monoyios, Shari Saunders and Benjamin Butterfield. Dido's court looks like it sprang from classical vase paintings, while the witchy crew provides more jittery, insect-like postures.
There's also a keen sensuality between Morris's Dido and Guillermo Resto's Aeneas. The only segment that doesn't work is the opera's best number, Dido's haunting aria When I Am Laid To Rest; the dance doesn't parallel the music's rich drama.
EXTRAS None. Too bad no one asked Morris for a commentary on his production concept.
BURNT TOAST (Rhombus/CBC/Morningstar, 2005) w/ Dan Redican, Mark McKinney, Barbara Hannigan and Cathy Jones. Rating: NNNN
Inspired by the short comic TV opera Toothpaste, Burnt Toast offers eight mini-operas that look at the arc of love, from the first stirrings of romance to trying to get back together. With music by Alexina Louie, played by Esprit Orchestra, libretto by Dan Redican and direction by Larry Weinstein, it's a laugh-filled treat. Actors Paul Gross, Jessica Holmes, Colm Feore, Leah Pinsent and Cathy Jones fill most of the roles, sung by others, though sometimes opera performers like Barbara Hannigan, Jean Stilwell and Shannon Mercer do both jobs.
Redican wordlessly introduces each piece, playing a scientist who uses slices of Wonderbread to illustrate the changing nature of human relationships. The segments are all short and sweet, the highlight being the last, in which Mark McKinney as a rejected husband fantasizes about his ex-wife's (Hannigan) desperate attempts to reunite with him. Not just for opera fans.
EXTRAS Director's commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a look at Toothpaste), theatrical trailer, Web-game trailer.