Punk meets gothic as classic opera gets modern makeoverAugust 23, 2012 - 7:00am
Love and abandonment are at the heart of Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell’s Baroque opera, which will be staged at the Town Hall Theatre next Tuesday night, August 28.
The opera was first performed in 1689 and is based on the tragic story of Queen Dido and her Trojan lover, Aeneas as told by the Roman poet Virgil. It was one of the first operas to be written and performed in English.
The cast for this touring production from Cork Opera House includes three of the top female names in Irish opera, the sopranos Cara O’Sullivan, Majella Cullagh and Mary Hegarty. The role of Aeneas is played by Simon Morgan.
“They are three of the best opera singers Ireland has ever produced and Simon is an up-and-coming baritone with a great voice, who is also a great actor,” says the opera’s director, John O’Brien.
The four singers perform the roles of the main characters and also play their alter egos in John’s production.
For example, when it comes to the parts of Dido and of the sorceress who plots her destruction, the sorceress represents Dido’s dark side, according to John. Here, they are both performed by Cara O’Sullivan.
“With this opera, I’ve always wanted to have each singer play their own alter ego,” says John, explaining that doing this heightens the emotional and sexual tension created by the characters’ hidden desires.
John feels stories like Dido and Aeneas reveal fundamental truths about human nature, and that these human truths have remained the same, despite developments through the millennia.
This production features live music from four musicians/actors, who are on stage throughout and play a total of 10 instruments
“Through their playing and movement they act like a Greek chorus and push the story forward,” explains John about the piece, which sees the sorceress and her crones destroy Dido’s dream of happiness, as they trick Aeneas into leaving her.
“It’s such a cool piece – it’s an hour long and the drama and story are so condensed. That’s unusual in early opera.
“It’s really beautiful music,” he adds. “So the idea was to take all of that and go crazy with it.”
He and Marja Gaynor, the production’s musical arranger and violinist, jointly started experimenting with the piece before going into rehearsals. Marja devised the first draft, which was subsequently developed in rehearsal.
While remaining true to the Baroque music of Purcell, the piece also incorporates gypsy, jazz and tango elements – that’s possible because of the instruments being used such as violin, viola, accordion and clarinet, John explains. For instance, the parts, which were originally written for organ and harpsichord, are played here on accordion, which captures the baroque sound. But it can also be used to create gypsy music, which adds an extra dimension to the piece.
John, who is from Cork, studied Music in UCC, where he graduated with a Masters, before continuing to UL where he trained as a conductor.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.