Opera Dido and Aeneas

Baroque opera
“Dido and Aeneas”, Purcell, 1689
Haymarket Opera Company, Chicago, IL, USA – February 2013

Stage director : Ellen Hargis
Musical director : Craig Trompeter
Costume designer : Meriem Bahri
Set designer : David Mayernik
Light designer : Eric Peterson
Photographers : Charles Osgood – Benjamin Brachi

Decked out in period wigs and Meriem Bahri’s richly textured costumes, the dozen cast members looked as if they had stepped out of 17th century English paintings.”

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2013

Paintings and notes from Age of Enlightenment inspired the entire aesthetic and design studied to recreate the atmosphere of this late XVIIth century opera, from wigs to shoes. The costume palette was conceived based on a trio of colors defining the identities of the three main characters and, by extension, their followers.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, wears blue as main color, a peaceful tint showing her desire to bring harmony to her kingdom. Aeneas’ primary color is red; the Trojan prince is, above all, a warrior and the one who inspires ardor in Dido. Between the blue and red, as an obstacle to Dido and Aeneas’ love, the image of the sorceress Melissa is principally composed of purple shades.

Aeneas wears a typical hero/warrior costume, with an armor-like bodice, tonnelet and cape. On Dido’s costume, shades of bronze and gold imply her royal status and the small leather pelerine reminds us of the way she cleverly founded Carthage and of her attachment to her kingdom. However, this brown capelet rests on her shoulders like a burden and the chain linking it and her corset – her heart – symbolizes the dilemma between listening to her feelings for Aeneas and the risk of weakening the monarchy.

The two ladies around her – her sister Belinda and Amaryllis (woman at court) – are wearing similar shades. The intensity of gold/bronze decreases with their social position while touches of green and light blue represent their own hopes and their distance from Dido’s sorrow. The trio of witches is visually symmetrically opposed to the trio of women described above, with the addition of details linked to sorcery and evil such as geometrical twisted patterns and pointed edges. This nightmarish group will rise higher and higher with the apparition of hairy and snaky shaped furies.