DIDO and Aeneas (continuED)


Westmont’s theatre program will perform Marlowe’s first full-length play, Dido, Queen of Carthage. That production will be followed immediately by Purcell’s groundbreaking opera Dido and Aeneas (libretto by Nahum Tate, appointed poet laureate in 1692). Michael Shasberger will co-direct the opera with John.

John tells the story about the origins of this project: “About a year ago, Michael Shasberger and I had decided upon our next collaboration—Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid. I became interested in the material while working on a Macedonian production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, staged for the Bitola National Theatre in the summer of 2015. Dido and Aeneas stand as archetypal forbears of that tragic pair, as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We had decided upon a short Telemann opera buffa about Don Quixote to open the evening when, while I was in Bitola last March rehearsing Antony and Cleopatra, a notice came across my Facebook Newsfeed that Shakespeare’s Globe was presenting a young people’s company in a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. What? Another Dido vehicle? I had no idea! I quickly read the play and was captivated by its astonishing language, fascinating treatment of the story, and complex treatment of Dido’s tragic situation. I was stunned: here was Marlowe, before Shakespeare, showing how to imagine and realize a new kind of drama, packed with new potential for the London stage. From my Bitola hotel room, I e-mailed Michael, imagined a project that used both performances in a single event, and The Dido Project was born.”

“My intrigue deepened when I researched the genesis of each vehicle. Dido, Queen of Carthage is generally dated from about 1585-1586. Marlowe developed it for a boys’ company, the Children of Her Majesty’s Chapel, which performed regularly at court, as well as in London’s private theatres until about 1594, when records of the company cease. Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate (poet, hymnist, playwright, and 1692 poet laureate of England) purportedly created their treatment for a London girls’ school—Josias Priest’s School for Girls, developed no later than 1688 and as early as 1684. This further fascinated me: two stories about Dido and Aeneas, developed nearly 100 years apart, created for young people—one for girls and one for boys, and further ideas about the project began to take shape.”

“As I worked and thought, I imagined a project where both vehicles exist complete, whole, and independent of the other, but also somehow need the other, and become obligatory to stage together. The shows exist in contrast and opposition, where one exists as the negative space of the other’s positive impact. Dido and Aeneas is refined, elegant, controlled, graceful, and stylish; the psycho-emotional impact of the story rests beneath a highly artificial and ornamented form, and only occasionally bursts out of that containment. Dido, Queen of Carthage, on the other hand, is rough, edgy, improvisatory, and raw; characters wear their psychologies and feelings on their sleeves, and the piece is passionate and volatile. I am tremendously excited about this project; it has been a completely unique experience for me, and I think the Westmont community will be amazed at the high level of work accomplished by our students. Audiences have opportunities to see both shows individually, over the several days of the January 28 to February 6 run, or they can see both of them, one after the other on two Saturdays—January 30 or February 6.”

In between those two weekends, John is offering a lecture in the Gender Studies series, entitled "Laid in Earth/Consumed by Fire: Female and Male Bodies in Two Stories About Dido." The lecture takes place on February 2 at 7:00 p.m. in Porter Hall.

Image: “Dido and Aeneas” (detail) by Guido Reni, 1642.