The story of Dido and Aeneas about the ill-fated love between Dido, Queen of Carthage and the Trojan hero Aeneas comes from The Aeneid, Virgil’s epic poem about the adventures of the errant Aeneas as he travels the known world of his time.  The author of the opera of the same title, Henry Purcell towers above all other English musicians of his time as a composer of a wide variety of works that includes instrumental and vocal pieces, and stage works, like The Fairie Queen, a play with songs fashioned after Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But Dido and Aeneas is Purcell’s only true opera and his most often performed stage work, in this case one for youthful voices, the work having been created for and first performed by the student body of a London school for girls.

Giacomo Puccini wrote big operas for big voices, conceived as vehicles for the singing stars of his time. Gianni Schicchi is arguably the one exception in the Puccini operatic canon, one in which youthful vocalists can sing its music without strain.

Gianni Schicchi deals with a money-grabbing group of relatives that meets its comeuppance when a fellow by the name of Gianni Schicchi outwits them and grabs Buoso Donati’s inheritance for his daughter Lauretta’s dowry. Dante Alighieri first wrote about Gianni Schichi, consigning him to the circle of hell reserved for cheats. Puccini exonerates him at the end of his opera, asking the audience’s forgiveness tongue in cheek.

Dido and Aeneas and Gianni Schicchi are now paired up by the ever-creative Opera D’Arte in a double bill that combines drama and comedy. The show is now having a short run at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music Cohen Family Theatre through Sunday – all its performances sold out.

The youthful cast of both operas has been put through its paces by stage director Kenneth Shaw and Brett Scott, its musical director, evidencing much talent on the part of the hard-working cast and just as much talent and hard work on the part of both directors. The production’s values are simply and tastefully realized, all the show’s elements coalescing in a first-class production in which music, drama, and design are in perfect balance.

Next time you hear about Opera D’Arte, the undergraduate group led by Professor Kenneth Shaw, doing another production, I’d suggest you try not to miss it. I have been watching the lovingly staged and curated work that our Opera D’Arte friends Kenneth Shaw, Amy Johnson, and Brett Scott have been doing over the past several years and I can unqualifiedly recommend it.

Rafael de Acha © 2023

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