Inventive reimagining of Purcell's tragic opera which is faithful in spirit.
Purcell's tragic 17th century story of the Queen of Carthage and her Trojan warrior lover is 'revitalised' by the contemporary choreography of the Mark Morriss Dance Troupe. If this sounds too ghastly for words, fear not. Purcell's opera, a fragile, austere deathbreath in an age of gaudy pomp is given an appropriate interpretation by Morriss. If we think of the late 17th century (eg RESTORATION), we might expect ornate excess, gold, mirrors, armorial bearings, regal folly and the like; Morriss takes the story back to its Greco-Roman origins.
The set is as bare as a Greek stage, a spare arena in which are played out the fundamental dilemmas of love, duty, fate and death. Changes in locale or emotion are registered solely through (very effective) light changes, so that we truly believe the change from Dido's castle to the Sorceress' cave without even minimal prop alterations. The choreography itself, fluid within a rigidly patterned framework, furthers the Greek allusions. The dancers of the roles are split from the singers, who sing outside the ring, creating a disjointed distancing effect, as well as providing the traditional Chorus effect, commenting on the action, even dramatising it in different ways to the dancers - such as the fragmented group that sings at moments of deep crisis.
This fragmentary approach - splitting characters and actions, singing and theatrical performance - extends to the casting. Not only is the female lead played by a man (Morriss himself, alluding to ancient performance practice), but this man plays both female leads, the 'good' queen and the 'evil', disruptive sorceress. This is a highly psychological interpretation of the opera, in which the empty arena works as a kind of mental space for the working out of various 'anxieties' about gender, power, performance, as well as the psychological conflicts within people themselves.
This theoretical opening out of the material never swamps the opera itself - the subdued sets, costumes and dancing allow Purcell's desolate music to haunt; they visualise the ghost the music becomes.
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