Wheaton College’s Opera Music Theater performed English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” from Jan. 14 to 16 in Barrows Auditorium. Their production included live accompaniment, costumes and authentic Baroque choreography. This Wheaton College production was directed by professor of communications and director of OMT Kailey Bell. In reflection of the entirety of the production, beginning with the auditions held last April, Bell shared how proud she was with her students’ hard work.
“I loved the entire show. But the moments I love the most are when students make something new with the same material they sang over and over in rehearsal. To see fresh discoveries and improvements come out during the real event is very exciting!” said Bell.
Bell was quick to acknowledge that the show would not have come together so well without the collaborative expertise of the entire production team. She especially made note of the new choreographer, Sarah Edgar. “We wanted a more modern approach to the Baroque era, so we started working with a Baroque dance specialist,” said Bell.
Edgar is a professional stage director and Baroque choreographer in the Chicagoland area. Her expertise enabled traditional Baroque dance to have a fresh, contemporary feeling. The dances served to emulate dynamic settings from a peaceful grove to a violent storm when combined with the lighting and set. Costume and set designer Jeremy Floyd used translucent curtains illuminated by varied lighting effects to create these settings.
Edgar may be returning for future OMT training and performances.
“Dido and Aeneas” was 50 minutes of non-stop singing. From Aeneas’ confession of love, to the Sorceress’ arrangements for Dido’s death, to Dido’s tragic and heart-wrenching suicide, this unusually short opera was jam-packed with an entertaining variety of emotions and plot twists.
Music director of OMT Matthew Gemmill ’06 arranged the music, conducted a live string quartet and accompanied with the harpsichord. “My favorite piece was the lament at the end. It is the most famous piece of this opera for a reason. When done well, it captures the moment in such a heartbreaking way that there is no comparison,” said Gemmill.
Gemmill said he hoped the entirety of the show served to entertain and move the audience. He added, “We come together to move, make music and bring joy to the audience. I believe our act of service is glorifying to God.”
Most of the lead roles alternated every other night to distribute the experience among as many vocal performance majors as possible. Rotating performances also helped to save their voices over the course of four shows.
Voice performance major senior Alyssa Rick said she enjoyed watching her role as the Sorceress as much as she enjoyed performing it. Rick shared a positive appreciation for such an evil character by saying, “You can’t find light without acknowledging the reality of darkness. And yes, Dido dies in the end, but I hope that in doing so, my character’s darkness serves as a contrast to her good.”
Fellow voice performance major, junior Patrick Zurschmiedeoculley said, “My favorite part of playing Aeneas is just being that epic hero who is passionate for love. It’s fun to play such a role because it makes knowing what you’re doing, where romance is concerned, appear easier than real life.”
Regarding the tragic conclusion of “Dido and Aeneas,” Zurschmiedeoculley said, “Sometimes a show like this, where evil triumphs and the story closes in death, may not seem glorifying to God. But this opera is great art, and my commitment to the craft is an opportunity to be a Christian who produces good art. That makes ‘Dido and Aeneas’ worship.”