Interview: Vanessa Dinning Brings The 'Ancient and the Present Day Together' in DIDO AND AENEAS at Bodhi Tree Concerts

There are three performances only on September 23rd, 24th, and 25th.

By: Sep. 17, 2022

Interview: Vanessa Dinning Brings The 'Ancient and the Present Day Together' in DIDO AND AENEAS at Bodhi Tree Concerts Bodhi Tree Concerts brings DIDO AND AENEAS to life for three performances only on September 23rd, 24th, and 25th. Directed by Vanessa Dinning and featuring a talented cast, this production aims to bring the ancient and the present day together in a unique show that you won't want to miss. Vanessa Dinning talks about bringing this piece to life with her talented cast and creative team.

DIDO AND AENEAS is a story found within Book IV of Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid (29-19 BC, and features royalty, love, magic, and a warrior prince in one epic tale. Stage Director Vanessa Dinning says the story and Henry Purcell's iconic opera itself may be old, but considering the story covers love, adversity, and heartbreak it is all still relatable in the present.

"At the opera's heart is a love story. Who doesn't love a love story? This couple, from very different backgrounds (and lands), are drawn together, but fate is against them. The question is not, "Will they? Won't they?" but is, "Will they be able to stay together and defy the Gods?" A love story where the stakes are WAY high."

Plus, Dinning says that while most people don't have to deal with an evil sorceress trying to destroy them (that they know of), most people can relate to overcoming difficulties in a relationship and struggling against adversity.

"Most of us have been in love, most of us have had to overcome difficulties in our relationships that have forced us apart. Sorceress aside, it's heartbreaking to see this true love (of, I'd say, soulmates) struggle against adversity and I think we can all find something there to which we can relate. Fate brings them together and fate pushes them apart..."

When it was written the score by Purcell was groundbreaking, almost the rock n roll of its time in 1689. So keeping in mind that this opera has stayed popular since it was written, Vanessa wanted to make sure that this show allows the characters and their stories to be told in a way that those themes and characters will ring true and speak to today's audiences.

"In this instance, I'm almost always guided by what I think will speak most to our potential audience and why might that matter. With everything we do, we stop and ask ourselves, are we staying true to what the music and the text are asking of us? Are we honoring Purcell's score? Are we telling the story?"

Finding ways to mix old and new, to re-purpose and retell this story not only symbolically fits with the mission of Bodhi Tree Concerts to recycle and reuse, but also informed the entire creative process and design of the show.

"Our design team has found and made pretty much all the elements of what you'll see on stage. Even our venue is a re-purposed building: Bread & Salt in Logan Heights used to be a flour and bread factory and is now a vibrant arts space.

Our costumer, Marcee Drysdale has based her designs off the ancient Greek, with a few modern touches, our set design by Jerry DeLane has its roots in basic baroque stage practices, and the treatment of Purcell's score embraces it all, tying everything right up to today! Our Music Director Brendan Nguyen has created an extraordinary sonic world for this production. There are a few surprises that we hope audiences will enjoy."

Vanessa says that this talented cast brings a dynamic mix to the story with their vocals and performances. The show features an all-local cast including Victoria Mature (Dido), Evan White (Aeneas). Walter DuMelle (Sorceress), Katherine Polit (Belinda), Danielle Perrault (1st Witch/Woman), Timmy Simpson (Sailor/2nd Witch), DeAndre Simmons (Mercury), and four teenage performers who are honing their craft as supernumeraries. (A Supernumerary is usually an amateur character actor in opera and ballet that help fill out a scene.)

"There is SO MUCH TALENT on that stage. We have a cast that mixes operatic voices, with choral voices and more contemporary musical theatre voices and the staging and choreography by Michael Mizerany covers classic French Opera dance right up to moves you might see in a nightclub.

I wanted not only great singers but really great actors who were not afraid to try new things and who would "go there" when the drama required it. Everyone has always turned up hugely well-prepared and ready-to-play and try anything, and THAT is what has made this process so fun and creative."

At the end of the day though Dinning just wants everyone in the audience to enjoy the show and find it as creative and engaging as it has been to create.

"I really hope that we can engage with everyone from the opera aficionado to the children who have never experienced opera ever before. The story is an ancient one, but it's still a cracking good story."

How To Get Tickets

DIDO AND AENEAS by Bodhi Tree Concerts have three performances on September 23rd, 24th, and 25th at Bread and Salt in Logan Heights. Tickets are $40 for General Admission and are available online at

Profits will be donated to Summit for Stem Cell Foundation whose Mission is to support, educate and raise awareness about the development of today's and tomorrow's evidence-based regenerative medical therapies focused on Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders

In its eleventh season, Bodhi Tree Concerts continues to uphold its mission of performing intentional acts of kindness through music. The group hires exclusively local artists to inspire community engagement, philanthropy, and enlightenment through music.

Photo Credit: DIDO AND AENEAS by Bodhi Tree Concerts, photo by Pete Shaner



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