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U of O Opera Company performs Dido and Aeneas

 Photos by Annie Thomas

With bright costumes, simple staging, and powerful voices, the ancient world comes to life on the Alumni Auditorium stage.

The University of Ottawa Opera Company performs Dido and Aeneas in the Jock Turcot University Centre on March 15–16. Written by Henry Purcell in the 17th century and based on Virgil’s Aeneid, this Baroque opera is the tragic love story of Dido, the queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, a Trojan prince.

The production brings together student vocal soloists, dancers, a chorus, and orchestra, as well as students involved in makeup, costuming, and lighting. Sandra Graham, a U of O professor and director of Opera Productions at the university, brings all the elements together into a cohesive and entertaining whole.

The staging of the opera relies on three white curtains suspended from the ceiling, reflecting the lighting to emphasize the mood of each scene.

“There are a lot less props. It’s very simplistic,” says Julie Ekker, a fourth-year music student who plays Belinda, one of the handmaidens.

Minimal elements are used — a rope paired with the curtains suggests a ship, while a blue cloth represents the sea. It allows the audience to gain an impression of each scene and rely on the performers to bring their characters to life.

“Probably looking at it, it seems simple,” says Lydia Piehl, in her third year at the U of O and playing Dido. She adds, “I would definitely not underestimate the difficulty, that’s for sure.”

Joel Allison, a third-year music student playing Aeneas, says the play “really explores the more personal side of the characters.”

He says he worked on “trying to understand what’s going through my character Aeneas’ head, what’s making him say these things, what’s motivating him.”

Allison feels that while the play takes place in ancient times, it has a very relatable story.

“This is a real-life thing,” he says. “If you’ve ever gone through a breakup, if you’ve ever gone through something horrible, this may speak to you or you’ll be able to relate.

“There are still horrible things that happen, there are still people who get heartbroken and fall madly in love.”

The performance also allows the students to get stage time and prepare for a career beyond their university years.

“This is my first time working with the orchestra, so it’s a great experience getting used to working with the conductor and so many musicians,” says Jaclyn Grossman, a fourth-year music student playing the second witch. “It’s really good in helping prepare for professional performances in the future.”

Most of the performers hope to continue performing professionally after graduating, but for this week, they remain focused on putting together the best performance possible.

As one of her last performances at the U of O, Piehl says she plans to “keep pursuing a career, cross my fingers, and see what happens.”

The performers in Dido and Aeneas can also be seen in the coming month performing solo in recitals on campus. See more photos from the production.