Opera is an old art form. As young artists in the 21st century, it is our job to take stories from the past and give them new life, to find why they spoke through the ages and why they speak to us now.
I founded the Other Theatre a year ago and, in that time, we have produced four plays. Our intention has always been to produce theatre differently: we produce pieces of theatre that other companies don’t touch. From Shakespeare’s Richard II to contemporary German drama like Marius von Mayenburg’s The Dog, The Night and The Knife – the weird and wonderful end of the repertoire has always been our home.
This year, I was lucky enough to be Pacific Opera’s Young Director. The opportunity opened the door to a new world for me: opera. Opera, at its inception in the 16th century, took its inspiration from the Ancient Greeks. It seized on to that most amazing human trait: the voice. Once more, it added music to drama and made the theatre sublime.
Though sublime, opera has accrued a performance tradition riddled with clichés. I was amazed by the score to Dido & Aeneas when I first listened to it. It deals so succinctly with love, loss, hatred and death. Immediately, I knew The Other Theatre had to produce it. I approached Su Choung, an incredibly talented, emerging répétiteur to be the musical director, and so we began to create a contemporary Dido & Aeneas.
Su and I both agreed that we wanted to produce an opera that spoke to audiences now. Dido has a strong performance tradition in which productions often get caught: stately dress, baroque orchestras and an expected performance style. These clichés are all superficial to the life and spirit that lies inside Dido.
What interested us is what beats at the heart of the piece: love. A love, so intense and total, that when it is lost one’s world could end. This speaks across time to everyone. To communicate this, we have tried to do away with Dido production clichés.
We are finding a contemporary way to perform this 17th century opera through a modern setting, gender-blind casting, psychological realism and vomit. By departing from how the piece is expected to be performed we have discovered a new piece. In this process, we are releasing what Dido can mean today.
We are still in rehearsal – searching and discovering – but I’m constantly startled by the artform that is opera. An artform that amazes and inspires. An artform that transcends logic. As artists, we must question, explore and discover the world anew.
Eugene Lynch directs Dido & Aeneas, playing at East Sydney Community & Arts Centre, October 25 – 26