The College’s theater crowd is in for a surprise when Lyric Theatre unveils its rendition of Henry Purcell’s “Dido & Aeneas” this Friday in the Don Evans Black Box Theatre. Director and College alumnus Aaron Cromie plans to inject puppetry and large masks, among other changes, into the 17th century Baroque play in order to make it more accessible to non-traditional opera fans.
“This will be a great show for students looking to give opera their first try,” Cromie, who graduated in 1994, said. “For those who already love opera, it will be a treat.”
“Dido & Aeneas” is adapted from a section of Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Tragic in the typical sense, Dido, queen of Carthage, falls in love with Aeneas who has fled Troy after defeat in the Trojan War. Of course, a group of mischievous witches decide to get involved and mess the whole thing up.
Many of Cromie’s planned modifications have to do with updating the piece, which was first performed in 1689 at an all-girls’ school.
“It’s an ancient text and an older opera in itself,” Cromie said. “We wanted to find a clear, clean, simple and fun way to tell the story while still presenting it in a dramatically effective way. The scene changes are abrupt; they go from zero to 60 in terms of emotion.”
Cromie is a multi-talented theatre artist based out of Philadelphia. His area of expertise is in puppetry and puppet craft. Some of his machinations are on permanent display in the Folger Shakespeare Library.
“I posed the question ‘What would happen if guests at a dinner party wanted to entertain each other by telling a story?’ In one scene, the guests each take on a role in the story and tell it within the context of the puppets,” Cromie said. “For the witches’ coven we have a few monster masks, some of which are human sized and others that are five times the size of a normal head.”
Opening night for “Dido & Aeneas” will be on Nov 2. at 8 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre. Performances will also be held on Nov 3 at 8 p.m., Nov. 4 at 3 p.m., Nov. 9 and 10 at 8 p.m., and finally on Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. Admission will be $5 for students and $10 for general admission.