Dido Passion


Being viewed in the context of history of Russian opera theatre, this gap does not seem that paradoxical. First performances in Russia took place in the middle of 1940s, and from the very beginning, opera Dido and Aeneas was perceived as a better fit to a concert bandstand rather than theatrical stage. Furthermore, most of the time it was presented by students or amateur musicians. Rather short opera with few leading solo parts and famous Dido’s lamento in the finale became one of the most sought after compositions of baroque era in Soviet concert repertoire by 1970-80s. The evidence of its ‘’wide spread” success became the first Russian clavier edition under Benjamin Britten (1975). At this period, opera has just started its way up to the stages of Soviet, including Russian, opera theaters. It progressed in a slow pace; certain fragments, however, remained more popular than composition as a whole. Dido and Aeneas could be seen as authentic play in Moscow thanks to tours of such conductors as Teodor Currentzis and William Christie, singers Emma Kirkby, Sonya Yoncheva etc…

Before Dido and Aeneas enter the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage) for the first time, our writer in residence, Olesya Bobrik, interviewed stage director, Mr. Vincent Huguet, and talked about his relationship with the characters.

Story of Dido and Aeneas is like an epos; it is a narrative about distant past, and there are no heroic acts, which is quite unusual. Nothing really happens there. We don’t even see how Aeneas leaves Carthage. The only significant event that is shown onstage, death (suicide) of Dido at the end. How do you, as a director, solve this problem?

Precisely this question was of the primary importance for me. I have decided to look for events that would have been taken place prior to the main line narrated in the opera. That is why I got back to the beginning of Didos’ story. Because of my ‘’research’’ I have added prologue. When Purcell’s music starts to play, I just keep telling the story that has started in prologue.

Lines are based on ancient sources. It depicts how Dido left Tyras, her journey around Mediterranean Sea, how she came to Cyprus, and foundation of Carthage. I was looking for a writer who would pull all the episodes into one script for the theatre. To be exact, I was looking for a female writer. It was important for me to find a woman-writer. I have absolutely feminist point of view for Dido. Eventually we invited French author Maylis de Kerangal. (By the way, some of her books are published in Russian. The most well-known is Mend the Living). There is almost no music to opera in our prologue (both Christopher Moulds and I are coming up with a new version of prologue specifically for performance in Moscow). Legendary singer and actress from Mali, Rokia Traoré, narrates Dido’s story. Her manner of acting is unique – speech of dramatic actress that transitions to singing.

Libretto gives a chance to interpret psychology and motivation of main characters from different angles. Which interpretation do you prefer the most?

Both Dido and Aeneas are outcasts; they suffered a lot. They had to leave their motherland under quite dramatic circumstances. They both reconcile enormous strength and the same amount of enormous weakness. Dido is not only strong and tough person; she is as well highly sensitive woman who is capable of love. Her tenderness can be seen in mis-en-scènes where Belinda and a personage called Second Woman, surrounds her.

Why does Dido commit suicide, in your opinion?

An endless sorrow sounds in her first lines, at the very beginning. She has already reached the limit; she is at the edge of life. She did so much to survive: ran away from Tyras, fearing revenge of her brother; wandered around, escaped riot of those who have left together with her; got safe after tempest in Mediterranean Sea…She really is on the edge of what she can go through. When we imagine a misery of contemporary refugees, we realize that we would not be able to survive if we were them, or even deal with one tenth of what they have experienced: diseases, exhaustion, fear…When Dido meets Aeneas, she understands that finally she sees a person who suffered as much. That is why she got hope, last chance in a sense. But Aeneas leaves, and her last chance becomes the final straw of her suffering. The ground that led to suicide was laid out long before it happened. This is not a romantic story – this is a story about life and death. Dido is as if killed three times. First strike was done by the crowd, when they robbed her palace at the beginning of the third act. Looters took everything, even her nightgown and crown. Second betrayal was by Aeneas who told her he had to leave. Third strike she does to herself by drinking poison.

Works of baroque and classicism eras often ended up with address to the audience, a sort of a message. Purcell – Tate version that reached us is virtually missing this part. Could you elaborate what the message behind your performance is?

It is believed that Dido lives and dies only because of Aeneas, that she would not exist without him. That Dido is too simple. Aeneas seduced her. He left. She died. I want to contradict this perception in my work, and it shocked the audience in Aix by the way. I had the following message in mind: this woman existed even before Aeneas, and, possibly, she is even more interesting than he is. She is strong woman, not primitive at all. I wanted to rehabilitate her to some extent.

Besides, I aimed to share “collective’’ story. Dido and Aeneas is not limited to two characters. It involves the whole crowd that around them. My assistant counted the amount of beats that Purcell wrote for Aeneas. Sixty. Whereas chorus sings four hundred. Relationship of the crowd, people of Carthage and Dido, is very essential here. It is no less important the relations between main characters. Purcell found a way to make crowd exists, expresses an opinion, betrays, and throws demonstrations…I wanted to create the feeling that we are that crowd. Directors usually do not make an ‘’emphasize’’ on chorus onstage of this opera, they have no time to transform it: first courtiers, than witches, then sailors… For me, it is just us – today’s controversial society. At some point, it (society) attacks politicians, kills them, and regrets in the end. All that happens very rapidly.

Finally, I wanted to send out a message, that opera makes sense when it lets us have a feeling of consolation. The end, famous Dido’s lament, I am sure, will be even more wonderful, if the voices of all women and man ‘’join in’’ together into lament. Her fate is as thorny as theirs, they did good things, and bad ones. At the end of my play Dido is at their feet, all of them are above. They sing their last song as a prayer, a farewell, and mainly, as forgiveness. This opera demonstrates violent conflicts, ultimately talks about reassurance. Reassurance that is possible to be together in the end. Three witches, who sparked all this, are in the first row of the chorus in the last mis-en-scène. They realize that got what they wanted. At the same time, they feel that they became orphaned without Dido.

What you just said sounds orthodox…There is something to it from Passion. However, I might be exaggerating... No, that is true. It really could be a good name for this opera – Dido Passion.

Translated by Anna Muraveva.