Palm Beach Opera to present the baroque opera “Dido” by Henry Purcell


Baroque opera is a rarity in South Florida, but the Palm Beach Opera enthusiastically delves into this repertoire on Saturday for the first event of its 60th anniversary season.

English opera is even rarer at this time (the favorite masks of the English, which were pieces with fortuitous chants and dances), but an effort from the time of William and Mary is generally recognized as the first outstanding example opera in English: Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.”

Created in 1689 at a girls’ school in London, this tale of the Queen of Carthage who died for the love of Aeneas, the dashing Prince of Troy, is celebrated for the richness of its appealing melody as well as for its most famous, “When I am lying in the earth”, sung by the dying Dido as she asks her servants to “remember me, but ah, forget my fate”.

Purcell, who died at just 36, probably of tuberculosis, was the greatest English composer of his time, and his stature was not seriously questioned until the beginning of the 20th century. His music is distinguished by its melody, its harmonic ingenuity and its vigorous invention; It was not until 40 years later in the oratorios of George Frideric Handel that there was such a happy marriage of the Baroque style with the English language.

Henri Purcell (1659-1695)

For its production of “Dido”, the Palm Beach Opera is planning an outdoor evening at the Norton Museum of Art Sculpture Garden. The show will be presented by the 14 young resident artists of the company in a semi-scenic production accompanied by a small orchestra conducted by Greg Ritchey, associate conductor and choir director of the company. A harpsichord and a theorbo (a large lute) will join the other instruments of the orchestra to add a baroque flavor to the sound environment.

The famous countertenor Drew Minter will take care of the staging of the work, which the company’s general and artistic director, David Walker, considers ideal for young singers.

Season overview:Palm Beach arts organizations move forward with full lineup listings

“It’s a great play for people to keep learning their technique and their craft and still be able to get their teeth into the acting and dramatic part,” Walker said. “It’s not too demanding music, with a great orchestra that takes time for your body to mature. It’s in English – and we don’t often get a chance to sing in English – so they can hone their diction skills, and it’s also a wonderful ensemble piece because the choir is the one of the main lead roles, which is quite unusual.

“It’s a great way for a group to work together,” he said.

The story of Dido and Aeneas is taken from book IV of Virgil’s “Aeneid” by Irish playwright Nahum Tate. Aeneas, the ruler of Troy after its destruction by the Greeks, was spared the death of Achilles as he was destined to be the founder of Rome. His ships veered off course as he sailed for Italy, and he landed in the North African town of Carthage, where the “magnificently beautiful” Dido, a widow, fell desperately in love with him: “His words are stayed with her to haunt her. the spirit / And the desire for him gave him no rest.

David Walker, General and Artistic Director of the Palm Beach Opera.

At the start of the opera, Dido, tortured by passion, is assured by her confidante Belinda that Aeneas is returning her affection. And indeed, he confesses his love for her the next time he walks in. Dido accepts it and the court celebrates their union.

But a wicked witch wants to destroy Dido and her city, so she sends a witch disguised as the god Mercury to tell Aeneas to stop lingering in Carthage and set sail for Italy to fulfill her destiny. Aeneas is unhappy to be denied happiness with Dido, but thinks he has no choice but to obey the gods and leaves. Dido sings a lament and dies, mourned by the choir.

Following:Bizet’s “Carmen” to launch the 60th season of 3 Palm Beach Opera productions

“Dido” is a short opera, which doesn’t quite last an hour, but that’s in part because of the way it has passed on to posterity. Some of Purcell’s music has been lost, including a prologue, part of Act II, and several dances. The Palm Beach Opera production adds other Purcell music to complete the story, including the song “I Attempt From Love’s Sickness to Fly”, which will be sung by Dido, as well as a song for Aeneas and some choral pieces. Walker said.

The production will run for around 75 minutes, with no intermission, he said.

“A lot of action happens before this piece starts,” Walker said. “We’re putting in a few pieces that can help tell this story… without them, opera wouldn’t have total meaning; we should know what happened in advance.

Meet the cast

Dido’s central role will be sung by Seattle-born mezzo-soprano Megan Callahan who studied at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, the Boston Conservatory and the Boston University Opera Institute. She has sung leading roles in contemporary operas such as “Dolores Claiborne” by Tobias Picker and “Dead Man Walking” by Jake Heggie, and major roles in works by Leos Janacek, Francis Poulenc and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

This is his first foray into baroque opera.

“And what a song to do it.” I’m so thrilled, ”Callahan said. “It’s a fantastic challenge to take on. It is much more about colors in the voice to create affect and emotion, rather than adding embellishments. … This is a very different process from adorning a [Gioachino] Rossini’s play, which consists in showing the beauty of the voice, and going towards it, which concerns much more the internal emotions of the character.

Dido and Aeneas (1747), by Pompeo Batoni.

While Dido’s literal love death may be difficult for 21st century audiences to understand, Callahan said there was a lot about the character that she could empathize with.

“Her sense of duty and honor runs very deep within her and that’s something I identify with. She has an incredibly strong moral compass, which I admire, so I try to bring her out. And that leads to her disappointment and grief, ”she said.

Callahan said she wanted to show Dido had no alternative after Aeneas abandoned her.

“I try to show by foreshadowing how important her honor, her sense of duty, how devoted she is to her people, ultimately, and how important it is to do well for them. And that becomes one of her motivations, even more than her own happiness, ”she said. “When she feels like she’s epically failed them, she can’t stand it. She can’t take anything anymore.

This leads to his famous Lament, an aria that has been recorded countless times, by big opera stars such as Jessye Norman and Janet Baker, and pop singers like Annie Lennox and Jeff Buckley. But rather than apprehending the weight of the moment, Callahan says she’s looking forward to it.

“It’s so easy to feel intimidated by these giants, but I kind of feel so honored to be joining the fold, in a way. It kindles a fire under me to be even more honest in my performance, my musicality, my artistry, my characterization, as they were, and to make them proud, ”she said. “I love that I can be excited to come to this point in history not only to make them proud, but also to make Dido herself proud. It’s the last thing she does, and that’s in sort of my favorite part of the whole series.

Baritone Christopher Humbert Jr. to perform as Aeneas in Purcell's Palm Beach Opera production

The cast also includes baritone Christopher Humbert Jr. as Aeneas, soprano Avery Boettcher as Belinda, and mezzo-soprano Meridian Prall as the witch. The players are complemented by Alexandra Raszkazoff, Maria Vasilevskaya, Megan Graves, Marissa Moultrie, Steven Ricks and Bergsvein Toverud.

Saturday’s performance also serves as a gala and fundraiser, so ticket prices fall into two categories which provide other perks. The $ 250 ticket option includes valet parking, pre-show cocktails, and post-show drinks and dessert. The $ 550 ticket option includes a three-course dinner, inside museum presentation and priority seating, as well as post-performance drinks and dessert.

The Purcell opera is the second event in Walker’s new Discovery series, which premiered in March with a one-night performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s 1830 interpretation of the story of Romeo and Juliet, “I Capuletti e I Montecchi,“also at the Norton Museum Sculpture Garden.

“Part of the reason I created our Discovery series was this, it would be a great opportunity for our resident artists to sing all the roles, so they would have lead and supporting roles, and have them. to their credit if they continue in their careers, and secondly, this is a great opportunity to slowly and steadily introduce non-standard traditional opera works into canon in our community, ”said Walker.

“One of my goals (for Palm Beach Opera) is to spread our artistic wings in the right direction. And doing it on a small scale seems like a wise move until it really starts to pick up its pace, ”he said.

If you are going to

Dido and Aeneas will be played Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Norton Museum of Art Sculpture Garden, 1450 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach.

Tickets: $ 550 (includes valet parking, three-course dinner, museum presentation, priority seating, post-show cocktails and dessert) or $ 250 (includes valet parking, pre-show cocktails show, cocktails after the show and dessert). Dinner starts at 5.30 p.m., cocktail starts at 7.15 p.m. Places are very limited.

For more information, visit or call 561-833-7888.


Comments are closed.