Dido and Aeneas Cork Opera House

Henry Purcell can never have imagined how his opera Dido and Aeneas would be re-invented by director John O’Brien in this daring production, first presented at Cork Opera House in February 2011.

O’Brien has Cara O’Sullivan play Dido and her mirror image, the Sorceress, Simon Morgan play Aeneas, the Sailor and the Spirit, and Majella Cullagh and Mary Hegarty double up as Sharon and Belinda and the Witches.

But O’Brien doesn’t stop there: he also has the musicians — Marja Gaynor, Carolyn Goodwin, Ilse De Ziah and Piia Parkarinen — on stage throughout, weaving in and out of the action as they perform. By paring back the cast, O’Brien has created a production as tight as can be: over the course of an hour, there isn’t a single moment wasted.

This is as much a visual feast as it is a musical one. Lisa Zagone’s Gothic costumes are stunning, and no-one will forget the ‘baby’ the characters squabble over, which looks like something created for a horror movie. In the course of the production, Dido’s throne is first transformed into a bed, and then the prow of a ship. A series of what look like giant shards of glass hang over the stage, and at one point, a full moon looms in the background.

Purcell’s original score, from 1689, has been re-orchestrated by Marja Gaynore, who, true to the spirit of the production, plays violin, viola, autoharp and melodica. The singing throughout is flawless, with Cara O’Sullivan, in particular, being suitably regal.

Dido and Aeneas is at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Wicklow Sept 6.

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