Bwog’s Art Editor, Madysen Luebke, sat in on the dress rehearsal and spoke with with the musical and stage directors of Dido and Aeneas, Chris Browner and Kevin Lee about their experiences bringing the show to life. The Columbia Bach Society’s Dido and Aeneas can be seen Saturday at 6pm in St. Paul’s Chapel. The show is only 60 minutes long and tickets are free at the door. It’s a seriously impressive and ambitious project, so check it out and support the arts on campus!
Bwog: So first of all, what made the Bach Society decide to put on a fully-staged opera?
Kevin Lee: I knew I wanted to perform an opera this year, and Dido and Aeneas fits with the Bach Society’s initiative to make what we do more accessible to Columbia students because the story is part of the core. Purcell’s opera is a potent and dramatic interpretation of one of the most powerful episodes of The Aeneid, and it’s a story that Columbia students can already come in knowing. But even more than that, there is a certain aliveness to the story and to the score that made Dido and Aeneas a musically and artistically satisfying choice.
Bwog: How did St. Paul’s chapel become the venue for Dido and Aeneas?
Chris Browner: It’s a building with a feel of antiquity, plus it allowed us to really feature the orchestra in the production. They’re not hidden in the pit, but instead right on stage and part of the show. We wanted to really feature the orchestra as it is a Columbia Bach Society production, and the space really allows for that. It’s an intimate space that we thought could only help tell the story.
Bwog: How did you work to make the show relevant to modern life?
Browner: Opera is often seen as stuffy and stilted, especially a work that was written in the 1680’s. Many people see opera thinking that it’s cast in marble and not relevant to their lives. But that is not true! We wanted to respect the original intentions of the piece and not create any extra obstacles to understanding for our audience. We wanted to bring out the gritty humanity of this piece; to show how nearly every individual can relate to the story on some level. We didn’t add any extra interpretation because the characters already have such strong emotions and motivations, we simply gave them the space to tell their story.
Bwog: How has the collaboration process been?
Lee: This project has become the most exciting of my projects because of the collaborative aspect. Bringing Chris in brought the show to a fully theatrical production, that could not have been envisioned without him. But truly everyone is so dedicated to this project and making it as dramatic and beautiful as possible. It’s so rewarding to work with such a dedicated group of musicians. They could choose to be doing so many other things here at Columbia, but they chose to put their time and effort into this show. It’s really not an easy project and there have been disagreements, but it works in the end because we all share the goal of bringing Dido and Aeneas to life.
Browner: I used to have the idea that shows should feature the director’s ideas alone, but this show is just another example of how wrong that thought really is! Every person in the production brings their own ideas to the table, which is amazing because the goal is to serve the composer and the music, not the director’s own needs. That’s part of the magic of this project, what you’ll see when you see Dido and Aeneas is truly the melding together of the ideas of every individual involved in this production.
Lee: The orchestra has been amazing to work with as well. Everyone has such strong and individual personalities that they aren’t afraid to bring to the rehearsal process or the performance. Entering into a musical discourse with each and every one of them has made the process of bringing the show together highly rewarding. I really love all the people who have worked on the project.
Browner: All artists have doubts about their work. But when you see it work and when you have an amazing group of musicians and artists who just run with it, it’s a beautiful experience. Everybody’s just in it.
Bwog: Why should people come see Dido and Aeneas?
Lee: Opera isn’t often a part of our lives. You’re supposed to see opera after having gone to Wall Street and become more refined. It’s almost a second liberal arts education. But opera has such a deep social lifetime that it would be a pity to ignore it’s value in our lives. We really tried to make the show relevant to Columbia students, choosing a story that we are all familiar with but one that is relatable and timeless as well.
Browner: There is nothing in the story that Columbia students can’t relate to on some level. We’ve all been jealous of those who succeed, we’ve fallen in love with the wrong person, and struggled whether to follow our hearts or our judgement.
Lee: As a senior, I feel like I can say this. Some of the most meaningful moments I’ve had at Columbia come from doing the unexpected, like taking a salsa class or seeing an opera. People should come see the show because they have mixed feelings about the art form. You never know what new memories you may create.