Ever since the demise of Opera Cleveland four years ago, the city has lacked a standing professional opera company. That makes conservatory productions particularly welcome, especially when they’re directed by David Bamberger. A veteran director and producer, who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Bamberger stages several operas a year with his students, challenging them to deliver performances of a professional caliber.

For his latest, he put together a double bill of short British operas. In almost every way, they occupy opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas premiered in 1688, a Baroque confection that tells the classic myth of doomed love in bright melodies and lush harmonies. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea is a gloomy 1937 work based on an Irish play that relates an overwhelming family tragedy in harsh 20th century tones, relying on the rhythms of the text rather than melodic lines.

It was their common elements that intrigued Bamberger: a strong central female character, men called by the sea, and tragedy wrought by overwhelming, irresistible forces. The other common element, of course, is that both are English language operas. As Bamberger pointed out in his director’s notes, English is generally not regarded as a good language for classical singing. By the end of the evening, he and his students had proven otherwise. Riders to the Sea starts with the discovery of a dead body washed ashore that turns out to be David, the son of Maurya, and ends with the body of another son, Bartley, carried onstage after he also drowns. Two sisters fuel the growing angst that provides the narrative momentum, but the emotional weight and vocal burden of the tragedy fall mainly on Maurya, a role sung on Thursday night by Erika Rodden. A graduate student with two years experience singing in the Houston Grand Opera Chorus, Rodden gave a controlled performance, keeping a tight rein on her clear, dark mezzo-soprano. She also showed amazing stamina; the piece is not long, but her character has to sing with intensity almost the entire time, and Rodden never faltered.

Kate Kostopoulos and Zoë Schumann provided strong support as the sisters, particularly Schumann, whose anguish and anxiety palpably grew. The single room setting, with almost no action, didn’t give them much to do; nevertheless, one wished for more than hand-wringing, given Bamberger’s usual gift for dramatic invention. A metaphoric door which kept blowing open to the sound of a wind machine threatened to become corny, but Rodden’s gravitas kept the tragic arc intact.

Dido and Aeneas poses a different sort of problem. Though it set new standards for Baroque opera, it seems silly by modern standards, a musical declamation of stiff couplets. Bamberger cleverly avoided this problem by relocating the piece to a 1930s recording studio, where diva Lucrezia Corona and her boy toy Angelo Wakefield arrived with great fanfare to put Dido and Aeneas onto vinyl with the help of supporting singers and a chorus.

As the session unfolded, the byplay in the studio put a delightfully modern spin on Dido’s loss and lament. Elizabeth Frey was persuasively poised and coy in the role of Corona, an achingly sensitive singer at the microphone and a manipulative harridan away from it. Her voice was good and her acting was better, as her glittery facade gave way to sneaking drinks from a flask and helplessly watching her boyfriend slip away. Brian Skoog made the most of his brief turn as Wakefield, while Jessica Hollick and Ellyn Glasscock turned in strong performances as Belinda and the Sorceress, respectively.

Outstanding choral work bolstered both pieces. There are limited opportunities for the chorus in Riders to the Sea, with the best of them offstage. The CIM ensemble turned in soft, atmospheric work that helped establish a mournful tone. The choral group in Dido and Aeneas, directed by Dean Southern, was particularly sharp, echoing the lead singers and adding chattering laugh lines with bite.

CIM is fortunate to have Harry Davidson at the podium for student opera productions. A professor at Duke University, who has held conducting positions with a number of regional orchestras, Davidson has a smart touch and a gift for inhabiting a score from any period. His transition from modern to Baroque for this production was seamless, with somber, almost minimalist work in Riders to the Sea leading neatly to an ebullient treatment of Purcell’s lyrical, high-spirited score.

As all the other singers quietly slipped away in the closing moments of Dido and Aeneas, leaving the heartbroken Corona on stage by herself, she paused before making her final exit, finishing in time to the music, and suggesting that, unlike Dido, she will find another man. It was a nifty flourish, reflecting the theme of strong women, subtly reminding the audience that as long as Bamberger is at CIM, there are more to come.