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Radical opera: Dido &...

To bring radically new meaning to a play is a virtue, to do it to a musical score is sacrilege. But why? Why shouldn't musicians be as creative as actors? This project turned on its head the idea that opera may be inventive on stage, but not in the pit.

Classical musicians may be the only Western artists still trained to believe that their job is to reproduce the practices and intentions of the composer, as faithfully as possible. Radical opera: Dido &... asked why the performance of old texts shouldn’t be as innovative in music as in theatre.

As part of the  2016 Arts & Humanities Festival, PLAYRadical opera presented, over three nights, a reimagined reading of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas as Dido & BelindaThe performances, and accomanying workshops, aimed to show what is possible and why it's thrilling for musicians and audiences to experience musico-dramatic re-interpretations of well-known opera. 

Although Purcell's score was unchanged, the performances were designed to show how the work could take on radically new meanings simply by the way the notes were played and sung. Choruses were re-harmonised, songs re-ordered and orchestration and musical style adjusted. But fundamentally what was presented to audiences was still Purcell’s opera - just reimagined for 2016.



Wednesday 12 - Friday 14 October saw a series of performances held in the Great Hall on the Strand Campus, including a cover show matinee by a cast of King's students. 

Each performance was followed by a post-show discussion chaired by the production team and by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Professor of Music at King's. At these workshops different facets of the musical performance were explored in depth with the audience, who were asked to provide feedback on their experience of the reinterpretation.

A full list of cast members involved in the performances can be found here.

For more information about the project please visit the Challenging Performance  website, where videos of the performances will soon be available.

Project team

Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson
Dan Leech-Wilkinson is Professor of Music in the Department of Music, King's College London. His research looks at how the mind constructs music in response to expressive performance (seen in the light of recent work on music cognition, evolution and neuroscience) and on the ways in which beliefs about correct classical music performance constrain performer creativity. He taught at Nottingham and Southampton universities before rejoining the Music Department at King's in September 1997. 

Helios Collective
The opera company Helios Collective was founded in 2012 by artistic director Ella Marchment. Since then, it has provided continued professional development opportunities to over 1,300 artists; toured both the UK and internationally (to venues including St Petersburg Philharmonia, Rose Theatre Kingston, Sage Gateshead, and Buxton Festival); run a variety of events ranging from masterclasses with leading industry professionals, opera club nights, and opera-plays (plarias); and commissioned eight new operas.


Radical opera: Dido &... was a collaboration between King’s College London’s Department of Music and Helios Collective, supported by the Principal’s Fund, the Arts & Humanities Research Institute and the university's Culture team.

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