Dido and Aeneas Interview

Great interview in the Irish Examiner today for the upcoming Dido and Aeneas. Having fun rehearsing and being actors on stage. Getting comfortable and excited by actually being part of the story and not just in the pit, unseen…

Bewitched by her love

Friday, September 09, 2011 : Fear and mistrust push Dido to reject Aeneas’s love in a version that utilises the musicians as actors, says Nicki Ffrench Davis.

WITH opera back on the Cork Opera House autumn-winter programme, a successful in-house show first produced in the spring returns. An exciting version of Purcell’s small but perfectly-formed Dido and Aeneas benefits from a musical re-imagining and a deft psychological re-appraisal. It is the brainchild of conductor John O’Brien. 

With each of the four singers playing at least two parts, the characters become more complex and the story becomes universal. "I had done a version of Dido a few years ago," says O’Brien, "and I noticed how Dido and the Sorceress could be seen as two sides of the same person, with the Sorceress as Dido’s alter-ego. It makes the whole story quite Freudian; she sabotages her own happiness. It’s about a woman who has come out of a loving relationship, her husband has died and she is feeling guilty, and then, suddenly, this hot young thing arrives on the scene but she doesn’t trust his love. She pushes him too far, too soon, and kills it — the same way that so many people sabotage their own relationships." Paring the cast of singers down to four and doing away with the chorus, he took no chances with his singers, making sure he had the best. Securing the voice of Cork-born international soprano Cara O’Sullivan for the lead role, his selection of coloratura soprano Mary Hegarty, Swedish soprano Caitrin Johnsson and tenor Simon Morgan shows a judicious appreciation of the fine musicality and drama skills opera requires. O’Brien brought in Marja Gaynor, a baroque violinist who also plays folk and rock music, to work on a new arrangement of the 300-year-old, one-hour opera. "It’s a baroque score, so even though it is written, there is a lot more freedom than in later music," says Gaynor. Much of the music in Baroque scores is partially improvised and Gaynor extends this freedom to her choice of instruments, as would have been natural when it was written. The organ and harpsichord parts are played by an accordion, and Gaynor jumped at the opportunity to bring the talent of her compatriot Piia Pakarinen, from Finland, to perform. Joining them is Carolyn Goodwin, an accomplished Cork musician, on soprano and tenor saxophones as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. Completing the instrumental line-up is cellist Ilse de Ziah, a gutsy improviser who also performs in a range of styles. With new instrument colours, the opera takes on folk flavours, including tango and habanera. O’Brien adds to the numbers on stage by making the musicians a key part of the drama. "I had done shows in Canada with performers who are each actors, singers and musicians. Those shows were more musical theatre and cabaret, but I found working with the dynamics of a group who could do all three — act, sing and play an instrument — a really cool thing, and I wanted to see how it would work in the context of opera. I knew that we have some musicians who are great performers and natural on stage," he says. "We really struck gold with the band," says Gaynor. "When John explained what he wanted, my first thought was ‘I don’t want to say anything and I don’t want to do anything embarrassing’. It was a massive task to memorise the whole score, but now we know it we can play so well together it makes it very enjoyable. "For all four of us, I think it has developed a new side to us as musicians. What we were taught as students was to stand still and not move too much — this has given us new attention to how we perform, right down to how we pick up our instruments." To realise the dream, O’Brien joined forces with choreographer Inma Moya Pavon. "I thought we could explore the physicality of playing the instruments," he says, "and from my previous experience in Canada I understood the rehearsal process of how to make it happen. "Inma’s so subtle in how she does things that I think the actors don’t realise how she breaks down subconsciously what they’re doing. It’s not about putting on a facade. I wanted the audience to see an amplification of what people who are playing feel when they’re really into it. "Lisa Zagone’s sexy and edgy costumes are part of that too — opera is about people screaming their emotions, it is about showing what someone feels. Opera is about extremes, like science fiction or fantasy," he says. Dido & Aeneas runs at Cork Opera House Sept 15-17. here is the quartet of musicians and clips from the Spring run

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