For two millennia, an epic poem defined Dido—the queen of Carthage—in the eyes of the world. Virgil’s Latin verses in the Aeneid portrayed the female founder of the Phoenician city-state as clever, passionate, and tragic.
This year, however, Early Music Vancouver and re:Naissance Opera re-imagined Dido in a July 27 world premiere. Co-produced with SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, this imaginative production of The Queen of Carthage presented Dido as a powerful, multi-faceted leader who shaped Western civilization.
“What if our understanding of Western European civilizations extended beyond Rome, reaching back to Carthage, to Dido, to a woman from Tyre (modern-day Lebanon)?” co-stage director Dr. Debi Wong asked in the program notes. “What if she was depicted in our histories and mythologies as fully represented and nuanced as most of her male contemporaries?”
For those seeking home entertainment that aims higher, the video version of The Queen of Carthage is available on a pay-what-you-can basis until January 5, 2024. To watch it, fill in a form at earlymusic.bc.ca.
Widely admired Houston-based mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte sang the role of Dido, who lived 800 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
“We can see a lot of different colours in her personality—the strong and the brave but also the one that’s breaking, that’s full of pain, and that is vulnerable,” Duarte told Pancouver earlier this year. “I love acting. I love the stage. So being able to bring all these different colours through my acting and my voice is very, very exciting.”
Queen includes original dance and music
The interdisciplinary show featured new works by contemporary composers Jessica McMann, Robyn Jacob, and Afarin Mansouri. In addition, the production included baroque pieces by Henry Purcell and John Dowland.
Yet this was not simply a musical concert. Vancouver dance artists Marisa Gold and Joulin Lee also appeared on-stage to interpret the story through movement. And production designer Camilla Tassi added another element with projections accompanying Duarte’s singing and Gold’s choreography.
Collide Entertainment filmed the live production at the 2023 Early Music Vancouver Summer Festival. Wong, founding artistic director of re:Naissance Opera, and Early Music Vancouver artistic and executive director Suzie Leblanc co-created the video.
“Our passionate creative team and artists inspired us to capture the performance on film so viewers anywhere in the world could experience this unique and powerful story,” Leblanc said when the video was released last month.
Watch the trailer for The Queen of Carthage.