DIDO DIDO in Operadagen at the Rotterdam Schouwburg

Nicole Beutler’s Dido Dido with the experimental opera company Silbersee and co-producers the Ulrike Quade Company proves emphatically that a little can go a very long way. Using only Henry Purcell’s twenty-nine word, two stanza aria from his opera Dido and Aeneas, repeated in various forms ad infinitum, the ensemble weaves a mesmerizing web of intricate and complex patterns.

The piece starts quietly enough with six performers on a row of chairs contemplating, along with the audience, a nicely painted backcloth of a seascape with towering, majestic clouds. We are woken from our reverie as the cloth comes crashing down to the sand covered stage. The chairs are rearranged in a neat line, facing the audience and the cycle begins. With each performer speaking one word, then a phrase, the full text gradually take shape as the repetition becomes a swaying hypnotic frenzy and the group seems to enter a trance-like state. One of the women, unable to contain herself, grabs a microphone on a stand and, like demented Janis Joplin, continues screaming the words over and over again.

Other elements are introduced – a simple reed flute, a tiny stringed instrument played with a bow, a small Indian harmonium and, finally, a full-size ancient carved-oak harmonium. We then meet Queen Dido herself, a beautifully manipulated Banraku puppet, who sweeps in and out of the action until meeting her sad fate.

Things at this point begin to normalise a little with the complete aria finally being sung, in five-part harmony a cappella, with the performers standing in a simple straight line facing the audience with the lifeless, crumpled Dido at their feet.

Beautifully staged with an elegant simplicity, Dido Dido was one of the best things I have seen in Operadagen so far, proving that less can indeed be much much more and that finally there was no trouble, no trouble in, in thy breast. Excellent.   Michael Hasted  26th May 2018


Photo by Anja Beutler