The difference between Early Music Vancouver’s rendition of Dido and Aeneas with period instruments -- including the archlute and the Baroque guitar -- and other renditions of the opera using the modern equivalent, is that EMV’s version is a whole tone in pitch lower.
A whole tone change does not sound like a lot, and is something that only professionals can hear and understand. However, a small change in the pitch can drastically change the sound of the music.
“The sound is a little bit less brilliant; a little bit closer to the speaking range of the voice," said Lucas Harris, early period instrumentalist who will be playing the archlute and Baroque guitar in the upcoming performance. "You can hear and understand the words a little bit better. The whole delivery is closer to the ground rather than up in the lyrical.”
Using the original period instruments Henry Purcell used when he composed Dido and Aeneas allows the audience to experience the original sound and effect that Purcell and his contemporaries would witness. "The essence of the music still comes forward and you can still appreciate it, no matter what's playing," said Harris. Modern instruments can only try to mimic the sound from the early music period.
Many people might think early music is another world away from modern music, but there are many parallels between the two. This is what drew Harris to music of the era. He was attracted to early music when he was introduced to the lute following electric guitar lessons in his childhood. "It felt like the perfect bridge between the two worlds," said Harris. "You're playing music from a long time ago and music that is really really good, music that has survived the test of time."
Dido and Aeneas, is different from many other operas at the time, intriguing scholars for over 400 years. The ongoing debate of whether the opera was meant for a simple school play or an elaborate court performance leads to many interpretations.
The opera is compact and dense -- the entire performance lasts less than an hour, with a plot laced with a perfect blend of sorrow and comedy.
The tragedy of Dido incorporates both tears and laughter seamlessly. “It’s just fantastic the way the tragic and comic elements of this opera intermix. They never seem to compete with each other and instead give it a delightful contrast so you are never getting too much of any one thing,” said Harris.
Early Music Vancouver will be performing Dido and Aeneas on July 30 at 7.30pm at the Chan Centre.