Arts Review: Dido and Aeneas

Dir. Mary McCluskey, Beacon Arts Centre, 8th – 9th April

Scottish Opera’s Youth Company puts a contemporary spin on Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a tragic love story about a Trojan warrior who leaves his beloved Queen of Carthage to fight in the war. The piece, created and performed by singers, instrumentalists and stage managers all aged between 16 and 21, opens with the image of a gauzy screen through which a golden backdrop can be seen. As soon as the music starts, the actors enter the stage. Their shadowy silhouettes can be seen through the shimmery gauze, which has a slight surreal feel to it. The lights dim, the screen slides away and Dido stands centre stage, draped in gold and looking imperial.

The set itself is minimalistic, which is quite unusual for an opera. Yet, the lack of objects draws more attention to the skill of the actors and I find that the lighting rather than elaborate set-pieces play a strong part in determining the mood.

At first I am confused by the untraditional portrayal of the witches. They are clad in tweed and carry umbrellas, seeming quite comical in the way they strut and pose on stage. However, I soon realise this suit their persona as they are seen to be devious and extremely manipulative. This contemporary artistry is present throughout the play, and while it prevents me from feeling transported into the Trojan era at first, it has a powerful effect on me once I embrace it.

Particularly striking is the final scene of Dido’s death is. I really appreciate the juxtaposition of the end with the beginning; the opera ending the way it begins yet in reverse. Confetti falls softly onto the floor, the lights dim, turning the actors into silhouettes again and the shimmery curtains fall back into place.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Dido and Aeneas. I felt that it was quite short, yet the whole piece had more of an impact because of this. In the end, I was left speechless and emotional by Dido’s dramatic death.

[Priyanka Chandi]

Photo credit: Tim Morozzo

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