The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Students make their opera debuts with Henry Purcell’s Greek tragedy ‘Dido and Aeneas’

This year’s Bentley Musical portrays the love affair between the titular characters adapted from Virgil’s “Aeneid”
Students perform in the Robert O. and Elizabeth M. Bentley Opera “Dido and Aeneas” in Wilson Concert Hall. Photo courtesy of the W&L Facebook page

This year’s Fancy Dress was not the only event to bring a story from Ancient Greek mythology to life this week.

Washington and Lee University’s theater and music departments presented their annual musical in Wilson Hall on March 21 and 22.

This year, the chosen performance was Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas,” in place of what most would consider a more traditional musical.

The piece is an adaptation of Virgil’s “Aeneid” and perhaps the English baroque composer’s most well-known theatrical work.

It is also one of the earliest known English operas, has a run time of just over an hour and can be understood without any background knowledge of Greek mythology, making the piece accessible to a wider audience.

The performance took advantage of Wilson Hall’s features to depart from the traditional staging, instead having cast members come off-stage to sing between the audience seats or from the balcony that overlooks the hall.

Because of this and the turnout from the auditions in October, director and conductor Scott Williamson selected the piece for the community to enjoy.

Garrison Famiglio, ’25, a music major, attended the opera in support of his friends.

He had a delightful experience watching said friends put on a “wonderful rendition” of “Dido and Aeneas.”

“I’m very thankful for the music department for providing great opportunities to engage in the arts,” said Famiglio.

Both nights hosted a full house as students, faculty and members of the Lexington community came out to enjoy the music and hard work of the cast.

Some groups, including the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, got into the spirit of opera by turning up in full tuxedo to support their brothers.

In the program, many cast members had noted that they were excited to be making their opera debuts with this performance.

The opera presents the story of the brief relationship between Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Trojan prince, Aeneas.

The first act follows Dido, played by Meredith Harron, ’26, on Mar. 21 and Heidi Thiessen, ’25, on Mar. 22, as she grieves the loss of her first husband, singing that “Peace and I are strangers grown.”

The ladies of her court, particularly Belinda, played by Sarah Gabrielle Lynch, ’24, console Dido and encourage her to marry Aeneas to help Carthage as well as herself.

Although Dido is initially not too keen on Aeneas, played by John Paul Hammond, ’27, on March 21, and Will Dantini, ‘24, on March 22, or the idea of loving again at all, she eventually falls for the war hero and accepts his marriage proposal.

While this is happening, a Sorcerer, played by Matt Flynn, ’25, on March 21, and Michael McLaughlin, ’23, on March 22, and two witches plot to destroy Carthage and its queen.

Students perform in the Robert O. and Elizabeth M. Bentley Opera “Dido and Aeneas” in Wilson Concert Hall. Photo courtesy of the W&L Facebook page

They summon a crowd of spirits to help them form their plan to separate the happy couple amidst raucous laughter and simulated lightning and thunderclaps.

The plan comes into action in the next scene, where Dido and Aeneas are accompanied by their companions as they rest in a grove of trees.

The summoned storm approaches the grove, prompting Dido and her companions to seek shelter.

Before Aeneas can join them, the Sorcerer appears before him, disguised as the messenger god Mercury, and bids him to remember his duty to create a new Troy and leave Carthage at once.

Believing this to be an order from the gods, Aeneas sadly prepares his ship to sail away.

The Sorcerer and his minions celebrate their success and make further plans to ensure his demise at sea, ending the scene with a dance.

Heartbroken at the prospect of being abandoned, Dido rejects Aeneas’ attempts to console her with promises that he’ll defy the gods to stay with her, and sends him “away, away.”

The opera ends with the famous “Dido’s Lament,” as the queen succumbs to her death with the loss of Aeneas.

Hammond said he considers himself “truly blessed” to have been able to portray Aeneas and work alongside everyone involved in the production, especially Harron’s Dido.

“The music is incredibly rich and expressive, and not frequently performed, so I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have done so with an absolutely amazing cast and instrumental accompaniment,” he said. “It was an absolutely amazing experience to bring this 250-year-old opera to life for a modern audience.”



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