Having found out that there would be an untraditional Berlinesque performance of Dido and Aeneas, my attention was immediately caught. Not because of my endless love for Greek mythology or Latin literature, but because I have a very vivid yet not so pleasant connection with Virgil’s Aeneid, which is where Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas originated from.
Back in high school, I took Latin as a voluntary subject in school. I didn’t even have to take all the lessons but I did as I desperately wanted to gain a formal qualification which would enable me to study law. (Why did I ever want to study law?!) Well, that was three years ago. However, despite my honorable aspirations I failed. I mean, I really failed. I studied Virgil’s scripts and tragedies for hours and sometimes even nights and still failed.
Of course, all the other students in class were naturally gifted and I ended up being the one who always copied pages of homework because it just took too long considering my motivation was leaving me faster each day. The fact that my teacher was a very determined – and some mean people might even say he was heartless – (I wasn’t one of them obviously!) didn’t make my life easier. At the end I didn’t get that qualification which made five years of non-obligatory Latin lessons absolutely pointless. That’s what I meant by not-so-pleasant. Back to the opera!Some Berlin actors, musicians and artists decided to give Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas a young and contemporary face. Dido, Queen of Charthage falls in love with the Trojan hero Aeneas. However, a Greek legend can never be as simple as that. Evil witches hate Dido and want to ruin her life. Consequently, they organize a ghost who’ll remind Aeneas of his national duties: He wouldn’t be destined to stay at one place with Dido. So when Dido finally allows herself to love Aeneas passionately, her heroic prince has already decided to leave. Dido commits suicide.
As the actors and actresses had an incredibly accurate facial expression you might be able not only to spot whose intentions are good or evil but also who the protagonists are. The performance was very passionate, loud and not always beautiful but that would have failed Purcell’s point anyway. The songs have been produced by a small orchestra and the lyrics have been sung in English, their original language.
What also struck me was not only the pure content of Dido and Aeneas but also the beautiful setting near the Ostbahnhof: Salon zur wilden Renate, quite a well-known club with a ship hanging in the woods in their massive garden. Yes, a ship!
The perfomance was stunning and I admired it just for its will to experiment with patterns that have been omni-present in the history of opera far too long. Some legendary ideas can only permanently exist and fascinate generations from different backgrounds if they are constantly re-evaluated and maybe even adjusted to a culture’s different settings. Still, this time major parts stayed the same in the story of the lovers Dido and Aeneas. However, it felt like a different universe to my depressing Latin memoris that were created in that grey concrete building called high school. Happy times, it’s so good to move on, evolve and to still go back to well-known spaces!