GVSU, GR performers partner up for ‘Dido & Aeneas’

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Daniel Goubert

As the billowing blue curtain waited to be parted, audience members flooded into Grand Rapids’ Peter Martin Wege Theater. From undersea enchantment to singing sailors, storms and falling tears, viewers would soon be introduced to a bottomless pool of local talent.

From Oct. 9-11, the theater hosted four performances of “Dido & Aeneas,” a tragic 17th century baroque opera from Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate.

The opera itself is based on the work of the Roman poet Virgil, and it tells the story of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Trojan hero Aeneas as their newfound love is threatened by elves, witches and a particularly sinister sorcerer.

The opera was an impressive communal effort between more than 100 different performers from five different groups, each of which brought a different type of talent to the stage.

The main actors and actresses were students from the Grand Valley State University Opera Theater program. Maggie Bickerstaff, who played Dido’s handmaiden, Belinda, discussed the rewarding nature of performing an older opera.

“You don’t get a lot of baroque opera these days in this area,” she said. “I think it’s nice that students were able to have the opportunity to participate in something like this. It’s a challenging era, but it’s fun to tackle.”

The students in GVSU’s Early Music Ensemble performed the music for the show, as the sounds of the violins, cellos, oboes and more all accentuated the tone of each scene. The instruments were coupled with the many powerful voices of The Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids to complete the auditory experience.

Valerie Beck, who shared the role of Dido with Lucy Finkel during the show’s three-day run, noted the extra attention to detail that was paid by the music performers.

“Tuning back in the baroque era was lower than tuning now. We’re using period instruments so the pitch is accurate to the time period,” she said. “We’re staying true to the stories. We’re staying true to Purcell.”

Onstage, the Opera Theater’s members were joined by the Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company, who populated the show with sea creatures, dancers, the cherubic Cupid and others. Also present were members of the Daredevil Circus Company, who performed acrobatic stunts on lofty silk ropes.

“When it all comes together I think is the coolest part: watching all of the pieces fall together,” Beck said. “Little ballet kids, they’re super cute. And one of the characters is this giant squid. We make a lot of Squidward jokes.”

The towering squid sorcerer, complete with flailing tentacles, was played by Alex Williams, who gave similar praise to the group’s collective performance.

“Everyone was really connected together. I thought we all collaborated to a point that we were just feeding off each other’s energy,” Williams said. “The fact that we were doing this collaboration with so many Grand Rapids and Grand Valley group is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m really excited to see the future.”

Performers and audience members interacted in the theater’s lobby after the Oct. 10 night show, giving viewers the chance to reflect on what they had seen.

“That final aria that Dido gives is the most known scene, and (Beck) definitely did it justice,” said music major Jake Will. “I thought (the show) was a great testament to what Grand Valley’s music department is capable of. There’s a great deal of talent in our vocal and instrumental programs that is being recognized by the community.”

GVSU Opera Theater’s next big performance will be “Godspell 2012,” a musical based on biblical gospels. The show is set to run from Feb. 5-14, 2016. More information on all theater activities can be found online at www.gvsu.edu/theatre.