In Brisbane performing arts world terms chatting to Yaron Lifschitz while he is creating is like having a direct line to the Manhattan Project.

Lifschitz is artistic director of Brisbane-based contemporary circus outfit Circa which is now a global phenomenon thanks to his vision and a very talented group of acrobats. Circa has conquered several continents and we’ve sometimes seen less of them at home but they are working to remedy that.

One way they do it is by collaborating. Circa collaborated with Opera Queensland (OQ) on the hugely successful production Orpheus & Eurydice which was performed here and in Sydney with soon other cities destined to see that acclaimed production.

That collaboration was so successful that Lifschitz and OQ have decided to go again with another mythological piece with sublime music and singing.

Opera Queensland and Circa present Henry Purcell’s timeless masterpiece, Dido and Aeneas in the Playhouse, QPAC from July 11 – 27 July.

What you will see on stage will be as fresh as it gets. When I chat to Yaron Lifschitz in the middle of rehearsals he hasn’t even finished creating the show yet. He promises “bodies doing extraordinary things” which is what we usually get with Circa.

Lifschitz and his acrobats manage to serve up something fresh with each production and this latest will be, among other things, “a kind of historical fantasia”.

“It’s sad and beautiful and it is also going to be short and punchy,” Lifschitz promises. “It’s basically the opposite of The Ring Cycle. There’s nothing wrong with The Ring Cycle but this one is over before the first act of Das Rheingold has settled in. I don’t mean to knock my Germanic brethren by saying that but a lot of opera is long and boring.”

Stylistically this tale of love and betrayal is reimagined through the lens of 1940s glamour with designer Libby McDonnell’s costumes evoking that.

Inspired by Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, one of the foundational texts of the Western literary canon, audiences will encounter a world of love, duty and betrayal.

The opera focuses on the romance of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, the shipwrecked Trojan prince, doomed by a malevolent Sorceress and Dido’s inner turmoil.

Australian star soprano Anna Dowsley returns to Opera Queensland as Dido, with Sebastian Maclaine as Aeneas and featuring Katie Stenzel as Belinda, Dido’s handmaid. Joined by an ensemble of 16 singers, nine acrobats and a rope artist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, led by Australian conductor Benjamin Bayl.

In this groundbreaking new interpretation, Dido, portrayed as a 1940s cabaret singer, shimmering in black sequins also plays the Sorceress, a transformation played out on stage that is both mesmerizing and ominous.

“With Dido and Aeneas,  we delve into the clash of desire and destiny, brought vividly to life by superb singers, embodied by the Circa ensemble, and set to some of the most moving music ever written,” Yaron Lifschitz says. “Our production takes the miniature masterpiece of Dido and Aeneas and smashes it into time, history, love and desire with immense gusto and physical force. Destiny, time and our lives propel us endlessly forward.

“History is movement. Love and loss are stillness, they pose a threat to history and are eventually crushed by it. It is the meeting of these two currents I’m seeking to stage.

“The production is fast paced, restless and hard edged. Bodies leap and crash. LED signs scroll messages as vocal and physical ensembles wrestle with layers of emotion shot through with irony, power and lust. Ultimately, I want to create a muscular and dense ride into the heart of emotions powerful enough to end lives and found empires.”

Collaborations between Lifschitz and OQ are quite personas. Lifschitz and OQ artistic director Patrick Nolan are good friends and have known each other since they studied together at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) back in the early 1990s.

Nolan has marveled at watching Lifschitz transform Circa into one of the world’s great contemporary circus companies.

“His purpose has always been very clear, to explore the poetry of the body to create emotionally complex and visually thrilling theatrical worlds,” Nolan says. “In the absence of spoken language, music has been central to this purpose, and it made sense to invite him to direct an opera.

“After the extraordinary success of Orpheus & Eurydice, we were curious to see how he and his team would respond to the exquisite fragility of Dido and Aeneas. With the remarkable Anna Dowsley in the role of Dido, and an ensemble of some of the country’s finest singers and acrobats playing together again, there is no doubt audiences will embrace this production with the same level of passion and delight.”

Dido and Aeneas, Playhouse, QPAC, July 11 – 27


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