Aaron Russo '98 performs opera

by Ritika Nandkeolyar | 5/1/98 5:00am

A 17th-century English Baroque opera with a male soprano?

"Venus and Adonis: An Opera Performed Before the King," is not your typical Dartmouth music event.

That's exactly why its director, Aaron Russo '98, chose it for his senior fellowship project.

Russo is a countertenor, a voice part so rare that you can count the number of men at Dartmouth who sing it on your fingers.

Countertenors sing parts that are written higher than the normal male voices of tenor, base and baritone, and are usually sung by female altos and sopranos.

"If you ask five different countertenors to explain what they do, you'll get five different answers," Russo said. "Some say we are falsettists, others say we have naturally high voices. But it doesn't sound like a falsetto, and I don't have a naturally high voice. It is a result of training and the sound is quite surprising."

Russo knew if he wanted to perform a dramatic role as a countertenor he'd have to put on a show himself. He was also interested in Baroque period and English operas. "And I just stumbled into this piece, by a composer I had never heard of before."

"Venus and Adonis," written around 1682 by English composer John Blow, was originally billed as a masque opera. Masques, a style then popular at the English court, generally feature a heroic male character, who is an allegory for the king, and the female lead, who represents an institution.

"The audience knew that they were expected to read deep into the simple plot," Russo said.

Yet that is no reason for people to be scared away from the show. "It will be entertaining, funny and it is in English, so it should be quite accessible," he said.

In this opera, there are two simple stories. Cupid, played by Russo, makes fun of the way the royal court practices the art of love. The other story is love between Adonis, a mortal huntsman, and Venus, the Goddess of Love.

"This is to my knowledge, the first time Cupid will have ever been sung by a man," Russo said. The role was originally sung by a nine-year-old girl.

Russo is aiming for an intimate atmosphere, with a minimum of technical stage production. "Although, the show will be simple in presentation, it will be musically exciting," he said.

"I'm also opening up an art form, Baroque opera, that is not normally performed at Dartmouth," Russo said.

In addition to a very precise reading of the script. The show will include period costumes and dances, choreographed by Lindsay Page '98.

Soprano Laura Stewart '01 will play Venus and Mark Riley, a student from Mercy First College in Pennsylvania will sing the role of Adonis. Russo met Riley at a performance at Mercy while on tour with the Glee club.

Russo has also hired a professional period ensemble who will use baroque instrumentation -- recorders instead of flutes, lutes and harps.

Performances are this Saturday at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m. in Collis Common Ground.