Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell

Costume design for Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, Ca’Rezzonico, Venice, April 2011 and the second in St. Paul’s Church, London, May 2011, Theatre Bad Lauchstädt, Germany oct. 2012

Libretto by Nahum Tate
Although little is known about the origins of Dido and Aeneas we do know that it was performed in 1689 at an annual concert at the well-known Josias Priest’s boarding-school for Young Gentlewomen in Chelsea. Despite convincing evidence that the work was conceived for such a performance, some scholars believe that it was in fact first performed at Court some years earlier and that a performance in 1700, when the music was used in revival of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, more accurately reflected Purcell’s original lay-out of voices.

I did the design and supervision of making of the costumes and props for this opera in collaboration with designer Laura Cordery, who graduated from RADA in 2010. The first performance was in Ca’Rezzonico, Venice, April 2011 and the second in St. Paul’s Church, London, May 2011.

The director Maria-Lisa Geyer trained as an opera singer and an actor. She started directing operas a couple of years ago. The design brief required to work within the confines of 16th century period costumes but with a classical greco-roman approach. The costumes are heavily informed by the baroque view on grecian/roman aesthetics, which we extracted from paintings like Peter Lely’s, Anthony van Dyck’s, Caravaggio, Guercino etc. Our role model for the Queen of Carthage, Dido was Queen Mary. The drapery of the dresses appear stunningly in a painting but are rather difficult to recreate, which was our challenge.

The nymphs, half naked nature creatures, doubled to become the court of the queen Dido and her counterpart the sorceress that tricks Dido’s lover Aeneas into leaving her. Of course did we dress them appropriately but we wanted to maintain this light, almost transparent appearance. A challenge, technically as well as in terms of solution finding we both enjoyed designing these costumes a lot.