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PSU Chamber Singers to Perform “Dido and Aeneas”

By Lindsey DeRoche; A&E Editor
On April 1, 2018

On Tuesday, April 3, the Plymouth State Chamber Singers will be performing an operatic version of Virgil’s epic poem “Aeneid.” The show will be entitled “Dido and Aeneas (by Henry Purcell),” and it will go from 7-8 p.m. in Smith Recital Hall.

It was the idea of PSU professor of music and director of choral activities, Dan Perkins, to take on the narrative from the famous epic as the director. Perkins is a long-time fan of the music that goes with the performance. But, he also saw how the choosing the performance could be advantageous for the specific group of twenty-one singers that he instructs.

“We’re a small school,” Perkins said. “And, so, finding a classical, operatic work that’s appropriate for undergraduate voices and matches the talent of our students and would be healthy for them is hard to find. So, a Baroque opera, an early opera, is appropriate. They’re not singing against a full orchestra; they’re singing against a harpsichord and a small string ensemble.”

Not only was the specific performance chosen with the Chamber Singers in mind, the specific venue was, as well. Perkins said that since Smith Recital Hall is a smaller venue, it is healthier for the singers’ voices. “They don’t have to over-sing,” he said.

PSU Chamber Singers have been rehearsing for “Dido and Aeneas” since the beginning of the semester. Initially, auditions for specific parts were held. Perkins said that this caused some friction at first. “I think my original casting was met with resistance and confusion, and maybe a little bit of defiance, because it wasn’t understood. So, I had to take some time to explain it, why I did that and what my motive was,” he said.

The original version of “Aeneid” is full of sex and sexual desire, and there are a multitude of opportunities to use “gender-bending” in roles within the performance. For example, in the upcoming version, Dido, the queen of Carthage, is played by a woman, only to later be played by a man and, then, another woman.

“Rather than just have one person be one character for the whole opera, I decided to change the voices and the characters so that more people would have an opportunity to sing, and also to explore the idea of gender identity and the relationship between gender and singing within the context of this drama,” Perkins said.

And though the concept of gender-bending might be foreign to some viewers, Perkins emphasized that it is not a new concept, and referenced how different genders would even commonly play each other during the seventeenth century. “Gender-bending, historically, is not really all that exciting. It’s nothing new,” he said. “I think it’s only really in our time, perhaps--in New England, perhaps, that the idea of gender-bending is exciting. But, it’s really nothing new.”

As with any production, those within it are what breathe a very certain kind of life into a narrative that another might not. Perkins believes this is especially the case with the current group of Chamber Singers, and said it is intertwined with the personal lives of many in the performance.

“This group of twenty-one singers brings an interesting energy to it, because many of these students have been exploring their gender identity and their sexuality and their relations with men and with women, and it’s part of our lives. So, to be able to express that and be comfortable with it onstage, and expressing sexual intent and desire and love through music, whether it’s a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or whatever [is important],” he said.

“It’s [“Dido and “Aeneas”] definitely something that you don’t see every day around here. And it’s also very different than any version of it that’s ever been done,” said Rebecca Mansfield, a PSU senior who will be in the performance.

Go to see the PSU Chamber Singers perform “Dido and Aeneas” next Tuesday in the Silver Center.

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