Shepherd School Opera’s double bill at Rice April 5 and 7 to explore timely stories of remarkable women navigating corruption and abuse of power

Opera art

A thought-provoking opera double bill set for April 5 and 7 from the Rice University Shepherd School of Music pairs works written nearly 300 years apart, each exploring remarkable women and timeless themes that remain all too relevant today.

The performances of “Dido and Aeneas” and “The Rape of Lucretia” will take place at 7:30 p.m April 5 and 2 p.m. April 7, respectively, in Morrison Theatre at Brockman Hall for Opera. R.B. Schlather is stage director and scenic designer for the production, and Benjamin Manis, who received a Master of Music from the Shepherd School in 2019, will conduct the Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra. Manis, former resident conductor of the Houston Grand Opera and former associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, was recently announced as Grand Teton Music Festival’s resident conductor and will make his debut with San Francisco Opera this fall conducting Francesca Zambello’s production of “Carmen.”

“The students are embracing this wild and unexpected ride with the gusto and bravery that has, to my mind, come to define the musicians of the Shepherd School,” said Director of Opera Studies Joshua Winograde of the unconventional pairing of the two operas.

Schlather said he was inspired by the monumental amphitheaters of antiquity to design a single space to explore the operas back to back.

“It is a colosseum to encounter timeless characters, grappling with existential human challenges around love, hubris, fate and destiny,” he said.

The journey begins with one of opera’s earliest masterpieces, Purcell’s poignant “Dido and Aeneas,” which recounts the tragic love story of Dido, queen of Carthage, and Trojan hero Aeneas. It’s a union compelled by political alliance, ignited by undeniable passion and thwarted by sorcery and duplicity.

After intermission, the audience will be transported to ancient Rome for “The Rape of Lucretia.” With its ingenious score and potent, timely story, it brings issues of corruption, control and abuse of power to the forefront.

Winograde said the idea to offer the two operas as a double bill came to him in the middle of the night last summer.

“I woke up and realized that performing these operas back-to-back would allow each of them to illuminate almost every aspect of the other,” he said. “In terms of their plots, at the end of our ‘Act 1,’ Dido ends her life when Aeneas is tricked by sorcery to flee Carthage for Rome; and after intermission we travel a few hundred miles and a few hundred years forward to Rome to see another horrid tragedy befall Lucretia. A night of intense drama as we have come to expect and love it from opera!”

The production will last approximately three hours, including a 20-minute intermission. Both performances contain adult content and are not suitable for all audiences. The performance of “Dido and Aeneas” contains flashing lights.

Ticket holders are invited to attend the Inside Opera: Pre-show Chat in Tudor Patrons’ Lounge one hour before curtain time for an insightful look into the operas being performed. The event will be led by Scott McGill, professor of classical studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures, on Friday and Danielle Ward-Griffin, assistant professor of musicology at the Shepherd School, on Sunday. Winograde will introduce the speakers.

Tickets are $15-$65 and available online at Discounts are available for current Rice faculty, staff and students.