CLU to present its first fully staged opera

Mother-daughter alumnae provide musical direction

Russell Fletcher is Aeneas and Melanie Stein is Dido in the production.

Photo: Brian Stethem

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Feb. 8, 2013) California Lutheran University will present its first fully staged opera Thursday, Feb. 28, through Sunday, March 3, on the Thousand Oaks campus.

Performances of “Dido and Aeneas” are slated for 8 p.m. in Preus-Brandt Forum. The theatre arts and music departments are presenting the opera.

Written by English composer Henry Purcell in 1689, the opera embodies the best in musical writing of its day. In three short acts, which include lively dance numbers, passionate arias and rollicking choruses, it portrays an epic battle between virtue and desire, power and politics, life and death. As Dido, the conflicted queen of Carthage, gives in to her desires, she stands to lose more than her crown.

CLU music lecturer and voice teacher Heidi Valencia Vas directs. Mother-daughter duo Elizabeth and Jessica Helms, both CLU alumnae, are the musical directors. Elizabeth, of Ventura, earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction in 2005 and teaches voice at CLU. Jessica, of Newbury Park, earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 2004.

Major players include the following: Melanie Stein, a senior music major from Simi Valley, as Dido; Jessica Butenshon, a senior theatre arts major/music minor from Astoria, Ore., as Dido’s sister, Belinda; Russell Fletcher, a junior music major from Lakeport, as the Trojan prince Aeneas; and Susannah Ruth, a senior music major from Thousand Oaks, as the sorceress.

Set design and costume design are by drama lecturers Josh Clabaugh and Valerie Miller, respectively, and lighting is by Ben Michaels, a freshman theatre arts major from Redlands. Ashton Williams, a junior theatre arts major from Sparks, Nev., is stage manager.

London-born Purcell has been called the finest and most original composer of his day. He wrote music for many stage productions, but “Dido and Aeneas” is his only opera. As the son of a musician at court, a chorister at the Chapel Royal, and the holder of continuing royal appointments until his death in 1695, Purcell worked in Westminster for three different kings over 25 years. In 1679, he was appointed Organist at Westminster Abbey, a position he retained all his life.

Preus-Brandt Forum is located south of Olsen Road between Mountclef Boulevard and Campus Drive.

Admission is $10. For more information, call the Theatre Arts Department at 805-493-3415.