Regional Dance Preview: MARK MORRIS’S DIDO AND AENEAS (Irvine Barclay Theatre)

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by Frank Arthur on May 7, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Dido and Aeneas is a Greek myth of grand proportions, perfect for adaptation into an opera. English Baroque composer Henry Purcell and librettist Nahum Tate did just that. The exact composition date is surmised, but we know that Purcell’s first opera was performed for the first time at an all-girls’ school in London no later than the summer of 1688. The widowed Queen Dido of Carthage has vowed never to marry again, but her charismatic courtiers long for merriment and above all, political security. The handsome Trojan War hero Aeneas enters the scene utterly besotted with the heroine. While the court celebrates the imminent union of the two monarchs, an evil sorceress with her coven of witches plots their downfall. Romance leads to heartbreak and tragedy. Dido ricochets between desire and agonized restraint, as if she foresees the bad end this will all inevitably come to (hey, it is an opera).


The oldest English opera is still active in the repertoire; in fact, LA Opera just presented it last year. But when acclaimed choreographer Mark Morris debuted his minimalist but deeply dramatic dance adaptation of Purcell’s opera with a live orchestra and singers in 1989, he made the tale of the ill-fated couple timeless. I caught the production in Berkeley last year, and almost 26 years after its inception it remains sublime and breathtaking. And it comes to the Irvine Barclay Theatre this weekend with Mark Morris himself conducting.


To some, the concept of a “danced” opera may be initially surprising, but after only a few minutes into Dido and Aeneas, you will wonder why this isn’t done more often. Purcell’s classic inspired Morris and his dance group to create a visual tour de force which brings to mind designs on ancient Greek vases or sculptures. Even if you’re not a ballet fan, the combination of classical baroque music (which will be played by Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra) and the clean modern choreography serves to strengthen the opera’s narrative.


Just as sweet are the live voices: Singing Dido & the Sorceress is acclaimed American mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck; bass Douglas Williams (pictured below), one of the most appealing singing actors of the younger generation, sings Aeneas; Indian soprano Sherezade Panthaki is Belinda; and Marguerite Krull, who has a vocal range from high lyric mezzo-soprano to soprano, plays Second Woman. The chorus is given royal treatment by The Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir from California State University, Long Beach—comprised of the top singers at the University, the Chamber Choir tours yearly and has concertized throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

photos courtesy of MMDG
production photos by Susana Millman

Douglas WilliamsDido and Aeneas
Mark Morris Dance Group
Mark Morris, conductor
presented by the Philharmonic Society
of Orange County
Irvine Barclay Theatre – Cheng Hall
4242 Campus Drive in Irvine
Friday, May 15 at 8:00
Saturday, May 16 at 8:00
for tickets, call (949) 553-2422 or visit

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