Michael Morton-Evans


One of the primary difficulties of staging Henry Purcell’s 17th century opera, Dido and Aeneas, lies in reconciling the opera’s historical setting with contemporary perspectives. The story of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, the Trojan hero, unfolds within the framework of classical mythology. Trying to retain the essence of this ancient world, while making it accessible to modern audiences demands innovative approaches to set design and costuming. In Pinchgut Opera’s latest offering director Lucy Clements certainly achieves this, though in a slightly bewildering fashion. The opera opens with a three minute overture during which eight of the 12 member cast wander about the stage carrying bundles of sheets, dustpans and other cleaning equipment reminiscent of a busy morning in a 4-star hotel. Into this busy scene bursts the sorceress, played brilliantly by Kanen Breen dressed in glittering gold mesh with a huge cape, and suddenly we’re thrown from hotel foyer to the banks of the Styx. He/She proceeds to pronounce a new prologue written specially for Pinchgut by actor/writer Kate Mulvany and we are treated to a history lesson which made me realise just how much the Rome versus Carthage Punic Wars were the real forerunner of Game of Thrones.

Once the prologue is done with, we’re back in the hotel foyer with the divine Dido, played and sung wonderfully by soprano Valda Wilson (so great to have her back here again from overseas), telling her friend Belinda (Sara Macliver) that she’s having trouble admitting that she’s in love with Aeneas. Aeneas(David Greco) enters, looking every bit like a plumber on his day off, and sings the aria If not for mine, for Empire’s sake. And then things turn nasty again as the sorceress sets out to ensure that their relationship is heading for destruction. Aeneas is torn between his love for Dido and his duty to the Gods and plumps for the Gods, leaving Dido distraught. She plunges a dagger into her heart and dies singing the most famous aria of the opera, When I am laid in earth, or Dido’s Lament as it is commonly known.

Themes of love, hate, betrayal, and destiny are all wrapped up in this pleasing performance by the ever-reliable Pinchgut Opera under the musical direction of Erin Helyard. Valda Wilson and Sara Macliver sing with resonance and nuanced beauty, while baritone David Greco is as full-throated and macho as we would expect Aeneas to be. Top marks go to Kanen Breen who steals the show as the sorceress, oily and deceitful, at times, grandiose and grandiloquent at others. The rest of the cast, who play assorted roles as witches, sailors and general ensemble, are all beautifully balanced in their choruses and the 14 piece orchestra is both robust and delicate as the mood requires, though full marks go to percussionist Kevin Mann, who was clearly having great fun with his wind machine, metal sheeting for thunder and an array of other weird objects for sound effects.

Everyone connected with this production can be justly proud and it’s a shame that there are only five performances in Sydney.