Director Frances Moore and composer Alex Taylor are two of the leading creatives behind a contemporary take on Henry Purcell’s rich and evocative opera Dido and Aeneas. In a country where the numbers of new operas are few and far between and commissions are largely associated with festivals; the company has taken the plunge to add to the repertoire of the operatic canon – and they’re ready to take everyone along for the ride.
According to Moore, the production itself is very modern. Treating it as a 50 minute promenade through the multiple spaces of the Basement Theatre, the company are inviting audiences to experience a kaleidoscope of “unashamedly subversive, naughty, authentic emotion” that continues to interrogate the classical story of “girl-meets-boy-girl-has-her-heart-broken-girl-has-no-value”.
“Our Dido has complexity and it is delicious to fall in love but then how do you then counter that and what happens when that all turns to shit?” Moore asks.
It’s the endless question that besieges us as creatures made susceptible to the machinations of the heart but with Taylor’s recomposition a whole new world has been created to explore these issues.
“There’s a number of different influences,” says Taylor. “We have Beyoncé, Stravinsky, Bill Evans as well as other strange contemporary additions and these are all competing with the baroque language and suddenly we have a world that is holding multiple realities simultaneously.”
One of the advantages of the young company is that unlike the bigger establishments who have a number of deliverable and outcomes to meet their stakeholder’s expectations, this collective are able to flirt with daring re-imaginings.
“While I love the silence of the concert hall this is theatre,” says Taylor. “Our form is immediate, there’s no etiquette and I mean that in a good way.”
“Opera is inherently theatrical,” adds Moore. “When I went to drama school a lot of friends were quite adamant that opera wasn’t for them. They didn’t understand it as a form, and they didn’t understand the appeal. Unfortunately, that’s all based on a really limited experience of opera - if any experience at all.”
As the first opera to be performed at the Basement, Dido and Aeneas: recomposed may be a work that can challenge the often stuffy stereotypes associated with opera. Purcell’s music is after all, delicately laden with poignancy, rhythm and beauty, but in offering a contemporary rendition of a classic story, the company are also challenging the notion that opera is a rarefied product reserved for a few.
“Opera should be performed at different theatres and should be accessible to different audiences,” says Moore. “It has such a long tradition of history and stereotype and yet in rehearsal we’re dissolving into fits of giggles because this scene is exactly like the Bachelorette! We’re working with how we can play with those expectations, stereotypes and tropes and that’s all part of the appeal.”
“We’re not trying to replicate a baroque renaissance,” adds Taylor. “But we have been responsive to the work. The way I see it we are bringing new opera into the world in a way that it will continue to live and thrive.”
As a company UnstuckOpera aren’t keen on “domestic naturalism”. Moore explains that modern opera, while it “demands a heightened approach and an ability to take big risks doesn’t require big budgets or technical showmanship but an emphasis on engaging an audience.”
It’s a daring production to take to the Basement but in doing so UnstuckOpera are offering a challenge to modern audiences. Redefine your expectation of theatre and be warned: satin ball dresses are no longer the default attire. Come as you are.
- UnstuckOpera’s Dido and Aeneas: recomposed is on at Basement Theatre, Auckland, from 17-21 May.