On Saturday Night I went to the Hale School Theatre to watch the undergraduates of the WAAPA Classical Voice program perform in Purcell’s famous work, Dido and Aeneas. This particular production of Dido and Aeneas is unique as it brings to life the world premiere of the prologue, which has been restored and arranged by early music guru, Geoffrey Lancaster. Knowing little about this opera but the famous ‘Dido’s Lament’, I soon realised that it’s a pretty easy opera to follow:
Dido and Aeneas: A Plot Summary
Girl (Dido) meets boy (Aeneas).
Girl and Boy fall in love.
Boy leaves girl.
Girl can’t live without boy.
Girl kills herself.
When a show has no support (no sets, props, costumes, stage management, and for a while there it looked like no venue!), all pressure is put on to the performers to bring the show to life. There is nothing between them and the audience to hide mistakes or flaws. Yet, if you came to this show you wouldn’t know that it was unsupported. An orchestra of authentic Baroque instruments sits on the right side of the stage. Four benches lie at the back, manipulated throughout the show to create the set. Every performer is adorned in beautiful costumes, made by the performers for the performers and they make sure to use every inch of the stage throughout the show. This performance of Dido and Aeneas is energetic, cooperative and deserves a standing ovation for the amount of hard work these students have put in, not just towards their singing/dancing, but towards their backstage crafts as well.
An important thing to remember when seeing an opera at WAAPA is that you do not have fully fledged opera singers yet. These are young voices, a majority of them still teenagers, being trained and protected. We were lucky enough to have Lucy Schneider, our Dido, write a few paragraphs about her experience of playing her first lead role in her first opera and what it was like:
Lucy: Prior to completing the first year of my Bachelor of Music in Classical Voice at the Western Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), I did what all the undergraduate classical voice students had to do – audition for the undergraduate opera. Who doesn’t love an audition, am I right…? The first years and I were excitedly talking about how fun it will be to finally be in the chorus of our first Opera studying at WAAPA – Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. But I couldn’t have anticipated the outcome of that audition. I was about to be a part of my first Opera at WAAPA, and I had the role of the Queen of Carthage! So much went through my mind, everything from the instant joy to thinking about what kind of elaborate costume I will get to wear. Only one thing, I had never performed in an Opera before… and I had the lead role! Boy was I pumped and terrified all at the same time. But most of all I was determined to give Dido a red hot go and succeed. I couldn’t have imagined how much I was about to learn.
This experience has given me the opportunity to work with such incredible talent! The creative team consists of our Director Glenda Linscott, the head of the Acting Department at WAAPA, Musical Director and Baroque music expert Geoffrey Lancaster, our immensely talented Choreographer, Andries Weidemann, and of course the head of the Classical Voice department, the wonderful Patricia Price. They all had so many incredible visions for this work and have pooled their collective wisdom to create this world first performance.
One of the final things that made this experience so wonderful was being able to integrate with the undergraduates in all years, as well as the dance department. Alongside Aeneas, played by Jake Bigwood, Belinda, played by Emma Oorschot, my Second Woman, Jillian Halleron and every other member of the cast, we have come together to create not only an unforgettable performance but an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately we don’t receive any form of funding for our undergraduate opera, but that never discouraged the creative process. We have all worked day and night sewing costumes and building props to create something that is truly unique and full of heart and soul.
So what do I take away from this experience? To be honest, I feel like this has been a massive learning curve. There hasn’t been one thing that I won’t take away from this experience and I’m pretty sure if my roommates hear Dido’s Lament one more time it may just drive them insane. I have poured myself into this work and have discovered a drive and passion for Opera, and the power of performance. One of the things I love most about performing is the joy and emotional experience it brings to others. Thanks to this opportunity I can confidently say I am most definitely going to continue to Pursue thy Conquest and continue to give my all, as the result is an experience I’ll forever Remember. Every step of this journey has become memorable and I can only hope this is the first of many incredible experiences to come.
Dido and Aeneas will be on from the 2nd-5th of May, performed at John Inverarity Music and Drama Centre in Hale School. Tickets are $26 (Full), $21 (Concession/Friends of the Academy)
and bookings can be made by calling (08) 9370 6895 or in person at the WAAPA Box Office at ECU Mount Lawley between 9am – 4pm week days or at the door on the night. No online bookings for this show.
Written by Katherine Goyder and Lucy Schneider