ARTS: OPERA - Dido and Aeneas at Ground Zero ; THE TROJANS AT CARTHAGE Coliseum London Oooo9

Article excerpt

Previously in The Trojans... Troy smoulders in the wake of terrorist attacks, its pride dented, its women defiant. Aeneas, the nation's favourite son, escapes to Italy. His mission: to re- establish this "mighty empire".

And so begins part two. We are in Carthage, North Africa. It's another world and, eager to accentuate the point, the producer Richard Jones has even deployed another designer, John MacFarlane. Sea and sand, electric blue and ochre, those are the colours. Sunny, airy, positive, a spirit of optimism floods the stage. The opening chorus mirrors its counterpart in The Capture of Troy, except that now there is only light. Not for long.

Once again, Jones proves himself the clearest-thinking and most creative force working in opera today. In a fairly low-key first act, he establishes a feeling of openness and well-being. The city of Carthage is laid out in miniature before our eyes in a ceremony celebrating the seven prosperous years since Queen Dido was widowed. With the arrival of Aeneas and his men, shipwrecked en route to Italy, the spectre of conflict looms - but this time it's a conflict between love and duty. Jones has Dido and Aeneas first lock eyes from either end of a long table laden with Trojan missiles. It is a clever metaphor. The missiles are offered in defence of the Carthaginian realm, but suddenly they are a portent of doom.

Jones is a master of beautiful stage blockings. He deploys the all-important chorus to tremendous effect making great use of the open stage but doing so in marked contrast to such scenes as that prefacing Dido and Aeneas's night of love, where the great septet with its queasy harmonic undertow finds the lovers and all their followers crammed into one room of Dido's palace. Then the magic, the moment that at last isolates them, as they mount the stairs to the roof and with the cunning use of a single gauze cloth seem literally to float in the heavens.

Jones and MacFarlane, his designer, make great play of that oldest of theatrical devices, the drop-cloth. …