After seeing Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed, I’m convinced opera is an entirely unharnessed art form. As a relative newbie to opera, all I could think throughout the entire sixty minutes of the performance was “why can’t this be opera all the time?” Dido and Aeneas feels edgy. It feels energetic. It feels as if it shouldn’t work, yet proves without a doubt that it does.
We’re met with Dido (the incredible Amy Jansen) and her two ladies-in-waiting (Tamsyn Matchett and Barbara Paterson) decked out in precarious flower crested wigs. They are joined later by the Trojan Prince (Rhys Hingston) who injects powerful bass tones into the mix. They all sing with power and ease, which is confronting at first but grows on you. The real beauty of this scene and the production in general is how the actors take what could be drawn out love ballads, and make them comedic and relatable. Frances Moore (director) should be credited with injecting life into an old myth. The close proximity of the audience allows nuanced emotions to flourish - ones you might miss in traditionally scaled operas.
The music alone is worth going along for. Alex Taylor has recomposed Purcell’s opera mind-blowingly well. Every instrumentalist and singer harmonises with an ease that can only come from extraordinary talent. The most powerful moments involved pure music. When Dido sung her final ballad literally a meter away from me, I forgot where I was. When Liam Wooding (pianist) played an extended piece with nothing else happening on stage, the audience seemed to be holding their breath. There were countless moments like these that truly elevated the night.
The Basement space itself isn’t acoustically perfect, but its grungy cramped-ness simultaneously clashes with the production and suits it. As it is a promenade production, be prepared to move around the entirety of the Basement theatre. Each area was used wonderfully and thematically, and production designer Josh Foley had the space transformed - particularly the upstairs studio space, which was lush in contrast to the stark downstairs areas.
The audience did tend to cluster awkwardly in certain spots, putting them out of sight of the main action for periods of time. Promenade performances are notoriously difficult to rehearse and to predict where audiences will huddle. I’m sure this will be fixed as the run goes on, as the actors get used to the space, recognise where the audiences are likely to huddle, and actively work to bring them out of their bystander funk.
You can see there’s a great joy amongst this company. They seemed to have cracked the code of how to make opera relevant, innovative and engaging again. I hope that this momentum continues. I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next for this talented group.
Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed runs at the Basement Theatre until Saturday. With only 65 seats per performance and several sold out shows already, you’d better get your tickets quick.