Amor & Psyche is a pastiche of music from 15 Baroque composers, performed by 3 singers in 3 languages, with a 3-piece baroque chamber orchestra. For this performance, the show was also a beginner’s guide to Baroque opera. I was equally amused and educated – a very, very, VERY difficult thing to do. Make 'em laugh and make 'em learn are so often mutually exclusive.
As a teacher and lecturer, I had to ask: How did they do that?
1. The printed program included a synopsis of the plot (made me chortle) plus the lyrics of all the pieces sung, with English translations. I skimmed this before the show began and had no trouble following the story, and remembering the gist of each song just by glancing at its first line in the libretto. This was an immeasurable relief, because if supertitles are running, I feel obliged to read them. If I’m reading them, I’m not looking at the stage. If I’m not looking at the stage, opera loses a lot of its oompf – because opera is and always has been a multi-media spectacle.
2. At the left side of the performers were silent-movie-style cards on an easel, changed by whichever performer was handy. Since scenery and props were minimal and Dornak played 5 different roles, the cards made it easy to recognize changes in character and scene.
3. On the right of the performers, a PowerPoint presentation explained operatic terms and conventions as they came up, e.g., aria, terzetto, basso continuo, counter-tenor. The slides were short, to-the-point, often hilarious, but always optional. I missed a couple while watching the performers, and would cheerfully see the show again just to see what those slides said.
I had a great time, as did the rest of the audience - even when under attack by a gleefully ferocious Amor. The singers and orchestra clearly enjoyed themselves, too, and enthusiastically answered questions after the show. I checked off one of my odder bucket-list items by playing a few notes on a harpsichord - a thrill after years of looking with twitchy fingers at the hermetically sealed harpsichords in the Metropolitan Museum.
I’d recommend Amore & Psyche to any culturally curious person who wants to learn the basics of opera; you’ll have such a good time that you’ll want more.