Dido and Aeneas at Mayne Stage | Concert preview
Haymarket Opera Company presents Henry Purcell's Baroque classic.
Heavyweight English composer Henry Purcell left an immense legacy of baroque gems in his wake, but among his 50-odd works for stage, there is only one true opera. Penned around 1689, with a libretto by Nahum Tate, Dido and Aeneas tells the classic Greek tale of shipwrecked Aeneas, who lands at Carthage only to get tangled up in a doomed tryst with clingy Carthaginian queen Dido.
“In my opinion, this opera contains some of the greatest music ever written,” says Haymarket Opera’s upbeat artistic director, Craig Trompeter. “The way Purcell sets the text is so beautiful and emotional, plus there’s some really detailed orchestral writing. It’s the quintessential 17th-century English opera. Nothing, really, has come close.”
Dido and Aeneas is the fourth opera for Haymarket, which is now reaching the end of its second season. The fledgling opera company may be the new kid on the block, but there’s nothing green about the folks behind this Rogers Park powerhouse. Trompeter is a freelance cellist with some of Chicago’s leading baroque ensembles, while stage director Ellen Hargis (who has added a newly devised prologue to the performance) is codirector of the Newberry Consort.
With a focus strictly on 17th- and 18th-century opera, Haymarket sets itself apart with its dedication to baroque gesture, costumes and dance. “Many opera companies will take a baroque piece and set it in 20th-century Afghanistan or whatever,” Trompeter notes. “Those can work, but we’re really committed to period staging and period instruments. Everything works together, so there’s no sense of dissonance.”
When I reach Trompeter, the 11-person cast and new choreographer Sarah Edgar are busy starting rehearsals in Hargis’s cozy Rogers Park apartment. “I’m conducting rehearsals from the sun porch,” he says with a laugh. “There’s lots of high energy bottled into this little room!”