Scenography of Dido and Aeneas Opera by Purcell
Opera in three acts on a libretto by Nahum Tate, created in London in 1689.
Few baroque operas have had such a destiny and aroused so many emotions throughout the centuries. Composed by Purcell – also known as the Orpheus britannicus – this absolute masterpiece of English Baroque music tells the story of the sincere but unhappy romance between Aeneas, the future founder of Rome, and Dido, Queen of Carthage. This ancient-inspired myth has a particular impact on the singularity of the Baroque: in opera as it developed in the 17th century, it is the scorned woman who takes precedence over the man of action. Dido, the archetype of betrayal in love, has inspired more than a hundred lyrical works by Western composers, from Cavalli to Britten. Better than any other, she gives us the opportunity to hear the heart-rending song of a broken soul – as in the sublime final lamento written by Purcell ( When I am laid in earth ), which has now entered the collective imagination of despair.
Dido and Aeneas is an opera of remarkable variety, mixing pastoral, burlesque comedy and tragedy. It is also one of the most beloved works of William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, who have frequently performed it in concert, the latest version dated back to 2009.
Evi Keller has been invited to create the stage design for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in collaboration with William Christie, Music Director of Les Arts Florissants, and the Madrid-based choreographer Blanca Li, a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and already familiar with Les Arts Florissants, with whom she collaborated on Les Indes galantes at the Opéra national de Paris in 1999. This project will also feature exceptional young soloists.
Coproduction Opéra Royal / Château de Versailles Spectacles, Teatros del Canal, Teatro Real de Madrid, Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne, Gran Teatre del Liceu
Description of the set design :
In the set I designed for Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate’s opera Dido & Aeneas, I wanted to go beyond the creation of a set by immersing the opera house in a total work of art merging place, music, song and dance. This scenography is inhabited by creations that I call Matière-Lumière and which embody the cosmic principle of the transformation of matter by light. It unfolds in the form of three monumental veils, one of which is a translucent triptych, and three sculpture-costumes for the main performers.
Light is, in my opinion, the most beautiful form of expression of love, and the primary source of the meeting of the two souls Dido and Aeneas. Their story is transcribed by a “Performance”, interpreted by the light that carries their personal experiences to a universal scale. The organic vibration of a fossilised light, which has become a living skin that breathes and envelops them draws an intimate relationship between the spectators and the love story of Dido and Aeneas on a physical, psychological and spiritual scale. Through its dynamic and evolving writing in the subtle material of the work of art, the light connects us to the spirits of the two souls. It guides them, animates them and, through Dido’s death, sublimates their love into a universal and eternal love.
The score played by the reflection, refraction, absorption and transmission of Light on the Matière-Lumière works, allows an infinite number of possible views depending on the work and the position of the spectator. The Matière-Lumièreveils as well as the sculpture-costumes, are in perpetual evolution, going from the mineral, vegetable, animal, human kingdom to the divine. Appearing and disappearing in the light, they create a bewitching link, offering an almost carnal relationship with the bodies of the lovers and the song. It is not the light that is projected on stage but the light that emanates from the works and beings.
The sculpture-costumes merge the singers who inhabit them with all the scenic elements. The light transforms these sculptures, in particular the one worn by Renato Dolcini who plays Aeneas but also, draped in darkness, the Great Witch. The immobility of the singers dressed in the costume sculptures gives them an hieratic attitude that contributes to giving a timeless meaning to the opera’s message.
The triptych of translucent veils, material dissolved and etched by light, embodies distant, organic and living worlds. Like spirits, which become incarnate, its celestial fire amplifies the cosmic force of the song.
The first work, a monolith of embers and ashes, is premonition: it evokes Dido’s death in the absolute blackness of a petrified light. In the second veil, it is transformed into a luminous landscape of a sensitive world in the making. The spirits of nature are pulsating here, their celestial fire sublime and amplifying the cosmic force, the eternal magic of music and dance.
The large reflective surface of the black water that covers the floor is the matrix of the initiatory journey… a mirror portrait, face to face with oneself… the black water links us with heaven and earth, brings us closer to unity. The reflections of the veil in the depth of the water, the melting of the crystals of the soul and the immersion in the infinity of the universe resonate with Dido’s death, crossing the mirror. Like a guardian of the threshold who alone knows the secret, the black monolith bears witness to the imprint of their passage, of the whole story.
In the process of creating the work Matière-Lumière the principle of the four elements, fire, water, earth, air, is omnipresent. I combine, among other things, pigments, ink, ash and varnish on thin layers of transparent film which I superimpose, draw, paint, engrave, scratch, erase, burn and expose to the sun’s rays, the rain, the wind and cover with earth, in a cycle of many months of continuous work.
January 17-22, 2023 — Teatros del Canal, Madrid, Espagne
February 9, 2023 — Théâtre de Compiègne, France
March 17-19, 2023 — Opéra Royal de Versailles, France
June 17-22, 2023 — Liceu Barcelona, Espagne
Direction artistique :
Les Arts Florissants Chœur et orchestre
Musical direction – William Christie
Blanca Li dance company
Stage direction and choreography : Blanca Li
Dramaturgy : Pierre Attrait
Scenography, Creation Matière-Lumière : Evi Keller
Sculptures – Costumes soloist singers : Evi Keller assisted by Laurent Mercier
Costumes : Laurent Mercier
Lighting : Caty Olive
Scenographic assistance – Chloé Bellemère
Costume assistance – Leila Moli and Cristina Pérez de Arriaga
Lighting assistance – Manuella Rondeau