Hampstead Garden Opera (HGO) is set to present Venus / Dido, a new double-bill production of two great operas of the English Baroque period at The Cockpit theatre in May. John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (1683) and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1688) tell the stories of two “powerful and dynamic women caught up in loves that will sap both their identity and their agency”, the North London-based company said in a statement.
Director Jessica Dalton’s new interpretation of these one-act Baroque masterpieces explores the darkness and sorrow that can ferment in the heart of love and passion. “The two pieces are wonderful together because they are so, so different in so many ways, but they also have these really close ties” Dalton commented. “Purcell was obviously influenced by Blow’s melodic writing and his harmonisation, as well as the form of his opera. They sit so nicely together musically.”
Blow’s Venus and Adonis is based on the ancient Classical myth of the goddess of love and the beautiful youth with whom she falls in love. Considered to be the first English opera, the libretto is thought by many to have been written by Aphra Behn, an English playwright, poet and prose writer and one of the first English women to earn a living by writing. However, the critic James Winn identified the librettist as English poet Anne Finch (née Kingsmill).
Accidentally pierced by an arrow belonging to her son Cupid, the goddess Venus falls in love with the human youth Adonis. The couple recline on a couch while Venus teases Adonis; just as she is about to give in to his desires, hunting horns are heard. The goddess encourages the youth to help the hunters chase a huge wild boar.
As Venus teaches her son about the art of love, a wounded Adonis is brought in. He has been mortally hurt by the wild boar and dies in his lover’s arms.
Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas tells of the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. The libretto was written by Irish poet, hymnist and lyricist Nahum Tate, based on his own play. The opera owes much to Blow’s earlier opera, both in structure and overall effect
Venus / Dido runs on selected dates from 20 to 29 May. Performances take place at The Cockpit in north-west London. Tickets cost £32 and are on sale now. See The Cockpit’s website for full date and time information, as well as to buy tickets.
HGO particularly aims to support young singers, providing the new generation of performers with the opportunity to work with a professional opera company. As such, the main roles of both operas are all shared by two singers.
Dido is sung by mezzo-sopranos Milette Riis and Katey Rylands, while tenors Sonny Fielding and James Beddoe share the part of Aeneas. The role of Belinda, Dido’s sister and handmaid, is shared by sopranos Anna-Luise Wagner and Julia Surette.
The HGOAntiqua Orchestra comes under the baton of Venus / Dido’s music director, Seb Gillot. Beckie Brazier is assistant stage manager, with lighting design by Tom Turner and choreography by Kate Goldie-Cheetham.
David Conway, HGO’s chair, commented: “We are very fortunate to have the eminent British soprano Dame Emma Kirkby to give coaching for our singers – so we are looking forward to a spectacular production!”
Hampstead Garden Opera will present Venus / Dido, a double-bill of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, at The Cockpit in May.