Few aural experiences grate on classically inclined ears like untrained voices attempting opera — except maybe sci-fi sound effects amped to a cochlea-frying rock-concert roar, both of which are on display in
La Didone, being presented by the Wooster Group at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
For the group’s latest avant-garde outing, company director Elizabeth LeCompte has decided to splice Francesco Cavallo’s 1641 opera with a video-enhanced reenactment of the cheesy 1965 Italian sci-fi movie Terrore nello spazio. Does the kitsch element enhance the original in any meaningful way? No, it just disrupts the experience, like an annoying channel-surfer insistently clicking the remote.
What’s more the pity is that in Hai-Ting Chinn, the Wooster Group has a truly superb Dido, a crack Baroque interpreter who combines delicacy of diction and phrasing with incisive acting. Indeed, she manages to be fiercely stylized and sincerely affecting all at once. Plus, she looks damn good in — and out of — costumer Antonia Belt’s wittily futuristic silver bodysuit.
Chinn’s skill is matched by Andrew Nolen in a panoply of roles, ranging four very secure octaves, from bass to countertenor (or an excellent falsetto simulacrum thereof). John Young as Aeneas (the Trojan prince who trysts with the African queen, then dumps her to conquer new empires) is also quite good. Among the professional singers, Kamala Sankaram — who doubles on the accordion — is noticeably outclassed, and as for the Wooster Group members who fill in on small roles and as chorus, let’s just say that the Metropolitan Opera won’t be calling them any time soon.
No doubt all sorts of technical sophistication went into this production — when the space explorers reach behind video monitors, for instance, their hands’ actions are rendered onscreen — but to what end? Plus, you would think that laughably bad acting squared (the film original times the actors’ lip-syncing mimicry) would at least afford a few camp laughs, but ultimately the humor in this misbegotten hybrid is surprisingly minimal.
Your best option, should you opt to see La Didone, might be to try to shut off half your brain, plug your ears as needed, and do your best to enjoy the lovely music.