This is a mesmerising, modern take which works powerfully by bringing the tragedy of the classical lovers into the twentieth century.
Their take on the opera sees the classical source converted into a WWII setting, with Aeneas as a fighter pilot who must leave his lover for the call of duty. The costumes are brilliantly done, with Dido sporting a dark green tailored suit, hat, fur stole and perfectly coifed hair in the opening scene. Later, she enters for the closing scenes of the tragedy in a vintage wedding dress, joining the unhappy ranks of Miss Havisham and Blanche DuBois. The chorus are given a sinister uniformity with nurses’ and soldiers’ outfits. All the cast wear dark eye makeup and a subtle coat of white face paint, which gives them a hollowed, gaunt pallor to suit the oncoming tragedy.
As the music begins to play, the entire stage is covered with a white, opaque gauze, hiding the set, which is an inspired touch in the small theatre. It acts in place of the red velvet curtains of an opera house, encouraging the audience to really listen to the prologue. The fabric then drops to reveal the ensemble, with grievously troubled Dido at the fore singing I am prest with torment. The musicians consist of a cello, violin and electric keyboard. Their dynamic playing perfectly captures the immense range of feeling in the score, running the gauntlet of emotions: love, jealousy, hate, rage, sorrow.
Dido’s reversal of fate occurs when the Sorceress, plotting the downfall of Carthage, sends an elf in the disguise of Mercury to inform Aeneas of Iove’s command that he must set sail to found a new Troy on Latin soil. Dido becomes increasingly riddled with fear and sorrow, singing, The skies are clouded. Hark! In this modern setting, this moment is Aeneas’ departure for war. The lights dim and we hear the sound of fighter planes, as the opera takes a dark turn. Dido enters in the wedding dress, sits, drinks, while somewhat meta-theatrically playing music from the opera on an old-fashioned radio. Aeneas appears in his pilot’s uniform and the show spirals toward its climax. When I am laid in earth, or Dido’s Lament as it is often known, as performed in the show remains one of the most tragic and moving of arias in the history of opera.
This is a mesmerising, modern take which works powerfully by bringing the tragedy of the classical lovers into the twentieth century. The fate of war-torn families bears a strong resemblance to the inevitability of Dido’s abandonment. The production will appeal to new audiences and existing fans of the opera. With strong individual performances from the lead roles, a great supporting cast of singers and a beautifully detailed set, Dido and Aeneas is not a show to miss.