Horseshoe Point brings baroque opera to Thailand

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Pattaya’s Horseshoe Point helped introduce Thailand to baroque theatre when it sponsored a performance of one of the earliest English operas at Bangkok’s Thailand Cultural Centre.

Twenty young singers filled out the cast of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” May 18-20 at the center’s Small Hall on Rama IX Road.

Organized by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation in association with B. Grimm and NUNi Productions, the opera was directed by NUNi Productions’ in-house director Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon.  The orchestra was lead by Israeli conductor and harpsichord soloist, Shalev Ad-el.

Sponsored by Horseshoe Point’s Girana Anuman Radjadhon and Simon and Umaworn Windsor-Clive, the performances showcased a theatrical form rarely seen in Thailand.  “Dido and Aeneas” is considered a monumental work in Baroque opera and one of Purcell’s foremost theatrical works.

First performed at Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London no later than summer 1688, the opera was presented in Bangkok in much the same way, with only a small string orchestra and choir.

The story line of the Opera is simple: Dido, the queen of Carthage, rules the country since the death of her husband and won’t take a new lover.  Yet when Aeneas, a hero in the battle for Troy, comes to the city they both fall for each other.

Is this the beginning of a brilliant love story?  No.  As Nahum Tate, the writer of the opera libretto says, “Great minds against themselves conspire and shun the cure they most desire.”

Through the unholy alliance of witchcraft and human failing this love ends tragically.  Aeneas must leave Carthage and Dido takes her own life.

Queen Dido was performed by Japan‘s Ayano Schramm-Kimura who, with her warm voice, was able to mold her role in a heart moving and expressive manner and yet stayed all the time in the stylistic borders of this baroque work.

Monique Klongtruadroke played the part of Belinda and the Second Woman was sung by Liv Lange-Rohrer.  Both sang and acted expressively and in a multifaceted way.  Aeneas, played by Saran Suebsantiwongse, found during his performance an outstanding vocal and tonal level and his aria in the third act was surely one of the highlights of this opera.

One performance that must be mentioned was that of the wizard and seaman Jonathan Truslow.  His acting and vocal skills gave the scenes something truly demoniac as well as the performance of the witches of the choir, who also acted as royal household, cupids and seamen.

The string players of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra played precisely and sophisticatedly.  Cellist Kittikhun Sodprasert was especially good, and during the solos of the singers he accompanied them authentically, empathetically and with a warm tone.

Ad-El conducted historically correctly from the harpsichord, yet at important parts when he lifted his left arm the harpsichord was missing as a contour marking base instrument.  A lute or a theorbo would have immensely increased the musical effect.

The young voices of the singers had a big part of the chamber musical character of the performance.  One had the impression that it’s how Purcell would have loved to have heard his music.

If one compares this performance to other standard performances in opera houses with “big voices” and with big orchestras and big choirs, one has to admit that the performance in Bangkok was very well done, although on a lower budget the performance maybe lacked a little bit of glitz.  The stage settings were simple: a huge sandbox with a wide pathway around and behind a railing with four dry twigs on it.  This could have been a bit more versatile.  The costumes of the performers were also contemporary without bringing to mind any baroque pomp.

The stage direction was modern, inspired by Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon who led the singers in a fresh and lively fashion.  The gestures of the performers were diversified and underlined the story in symbolic fashion.  A few times the motive of trickling sand was used: time is trickling away like sand, away like love and chances.

The sponsors from Horseshoe Point were present and they used to opportunity to showcase their fantastic riding hall and facilities here in Pattaya.