Dido and Aeneas: A Small Masterpiece about Great Love

03.06.2024 10:15
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Dido and Aeneas: A Small Masterpiece about Great Love

The music festival “Facets of Baroque,” ​​held by the Astrakhan Opera and Ballet Theater, lasted exactly a week and ended with the premiere of the opera Dido and Aeneas. The mythological story about the love between the Trojan hero Aeneas and Queen Dido of Carthage interested the English composer Henry Purcell so much that he wrote an opera of the same name, which even today is considered the best composition of English musical culture of the late 17th century.

Performed only once during the author's life, which was exactly 335 years ago, the opera was given a second life thanks to its printed edition, two hundred years later...

Its interpretation on the Astrakhan stage was innovative and unique: the director of the production, Alexey Smirnov, didn’t change the storyline, but he rejected the museum reconstruction of the ancient myth. The audience was offered not a classic version of Purcell's opera, but an allegory, where the characters of the ancient Carthage are presented in a metaphorical space; the dramatic events take place in modern interiors: great love, treachery, separation and a tragic denouement.

The poem of the same name by Joseph Brodsky suits as the preface to the performance; it helps to bring the ancient plot closer to the audience, involving them in the whirlpool of the characters’ feelings from the very first minutes of the opera.

However, not only the content of the opera, but also the amazingly beautiful baroque music, modern scenography, and the unusual placement of the audience on the stage, which thus creates a new chamber theatrical venue, came as a surprise to many. Dido and Aeneas was composed by Henry Purcell exclusively to be performed in a small women’s boarding school, and not in public: according to the composer’s plan, it was compact, without external decorativeness, and it did not claim to be staged luxuriously.

The new experimental format on the Astrakhan stage was explained by the director with the need for closer contact between the audience and the performers and the orchestra. The stage balcony offers views of the endless sea, which constantly changes depending on the mood and emotions of the characters. Interesting video content of the performance was suggested by the production designer Sergei Skornetsky, a graduate of the Moscow Art Theater School and the winner of the national theater award “Golden Mask”. The unusual lighting design of the stage, projections of the sea, rain, and sun glare contribute to the life sensations of the characters, they reflect the change of feelings and emotions, and the tragic denouement of the opera.

Like in most productions by the director Alexei Smirnov, in the play Dido and Aeneas there is a constant search for the dominant in life: the solution to Dido’s ancient isoperimetric problem interweaves with the modern figures of the world divorce statistics presented to the viewer and is complemented by the magic of witchcraft - evil, which is based on trivial human envy.

Dido and Aeneas is an opera about love that wasn’t saved... The role of Dido is performed by the soloist of the Nizhny Novgorod Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, the laureate of international competitions Yana Dyakova and the soloist of the Astrakhan Theater Anna Radugina; they actually carry the entire performance. She’s beautiful, slender, strict and at the same time gentle, with a proud posture; from the very first moments the attention of the audience is drawn to her thin silhouette dressed in heavenly silk and hidden behind a transparent curtain. The resonant, richly modulated voice perfectly suited the tragic image of the deceived, but loving and suffering woman. After the premiere, Yana Dyakova admitted that it was not easy for her to perform the role of Dido because of the emotional aspect throughout the entire performance. “At the end, before the last aria, I burst into tears, and the main task for me was to finish singing, preserving my voice for the finale,” the soloist confided.

Aeneas, performed by Alexander Malyshko and Andrei Shitikov, is exhausted by the search for a difficult compromise: his desire to bring Dido back is broken by the reality associated with his departure. The stage design of the role is represented by the emotions of the character, sensually played by the actors: from kneeling before Dido in the first act to the farewell confession in the finale.

Aeneas’s mother, played by Kira Kirilina and Tatayana Chupina, was remembered as prim and at the same time cunning, unwilling to accept the union of her son and Dido.

Bright and memorable images were presented by the characters of the charismatic divorce lawyer Belinda, the exquisite Iris, Aeneas’ aunt , and his sister, Elena. All the artists created convincing stage images of lonely women whose envy didn’t let them share Dido's feelings.

The chorus, divided on the stage in its opposite parts, in the opera represents both the witnesses of the divorce proceedings and the participants of the tragic denouement. According to the chief choirmaster of the theater, Alexei Melkov, the baroque music itself, with line changes, flexibility, mobility, required a new and unusual aesthetics of the performance, special efforts from the soloists and the chorus.

The Conductor Director, the Honored Artist of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Evgeniy Kirillov, spent the two evenings at the conductor’s desk. It was he and the symphonic orchestra of the theater, who had the ultimate task to convey all the beauty of the music of the Baroque era to the audience. The orchestra, mostly represented by string instruments, was decorated with such baroque instruments as the harpsichord, the lute, the five-string baroque double bass, and the guitar. The exquisitely patterned musical design helped to vividly express the feelings and depict the scene where the themes of love, treachery, betrayal and the emotional struggle of the characters are skillfully intertwined.

In the broken fragments of the mirrors in the hands of the chorus soloists, who took part in the mournful procession, that appeared in the finale on stage, the last lights of hope, love, life are reflected and fade...

The author of the opera, Henry Purcell, will never again write an opera on the level of Dido and Aeneas. But it was he who immortalized in art the cry of the abandoned and dying Dido, as a woman’s cry for unhappy love concentrated in C minor.

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