Dido and Æneas, baroque chef d’oeuvre by the British composer Henry Purcell tells of the romances and rifts of Dido, Queen of Carthage and Æneas, an exiled Trojan. In a concentrated form lasting an hour, a destiny changes course. Yet this destiny, Vincent Huguet, the stage director wanted to put it into a larger perspective by commissioning from Maylis de Kerangel a prologue telling us of Dido’s voyages preceding her settling in Carthage. It is to Rokia Traoré, singer, author-composer-performer and guitarist a native of Mali that the interpretation of this prologue has been entrusted.
For the show Desdemona, you collaborated with the Nobel Literature prize winning writer Toni Morrison; for this production of Dido and Æneas, it is the prologue written by the French author Maylis de Kerangal that you will interpret... You have the dual responsibility of being both an author and a performer, what is your relationship to writing?
Music and words often go together. It is not rare to find musicians who write texts just as certain writers know how to play an instrument or take pleasure in singing. The end result is the same, that of relating/narrating something and expressing moods. Each one of us has his own vision of a same story and the emotions which are the result of it are always unique. Writing and music address different senses, but each one has its rationale. I like reading other people’s writing just as I like writing; I like working with my own texts just as I like working with other people’s texts. You can rediscover yourself through the writings of others. By plunging into a different world, we understand things we did not even dream about up until that point. So much more than a discipline, writing represents for me a way of life. Read others, “write others”, talk about the others, learn about the others: that’s life!
The stage director Vincent Huguet chose to make a portrait of Dido before she had even met Æneas. In much the same manner, in Desdemona by Peter Sellars, it was a case of giving back her position to this female character even if it meant putting Othello in the shadows. How do you explain the urgency and the will to see women in a new perspective?
You could say: “We are in the 21st century; things are not what they used to be”, but you could also say: “We are in the 21st century and things have not sufficiently evolved”. Women have always had to show extreme discretion, to put themselves at the service of a man who thus became the principal interface, the unique intermediary. We are still, always and for ever in a world where feminine power is very badly perceived. Who would declare that he is prepared to be directed by a woman? It is not natural to see a woman in power, to see her take on a positive and constructive role. It has to be admitted, Dido is not exempt. Purcell’s opera makes use of a great classic: that of an amorous woman and concentrates not on the character of Dido, but on this impossible love. We are told that, for the love of Æneas, Dido takes her own life. Her gesture can be interpreted in a number of ways, but it is thus that we choose to tell the story of Dido. Because, an amorous queen is much more interesting than a queen endowed with wisdom and intelligence in the management of power. It is highly topical! Because, even if there is undeniable progress today, this can be deceptive, and lead us to believe that as far as emancipation is concerned, we have arrived where we needed to get to. Whereas in fact we are still only halfway there.