Rapt attention

Friday, April 26, 2024

Dido and Aeneas

The pursuit of art, antiques and decorative objects serves many purposes in the world in which I work. The first is purely aesthetic, man's atavistic desire to feather his or her nest. 

Another reason is that objects and art of the past can open up new avenues of inquiry, to shine some light on our history and help us make sense of the world.

And thirdly, we hunter gatherers love a good whodunit, it gives us an opportunity to play detective. I will take you down one of my recent rabbit holes:

I was in the Bay Area a few weeks ago and I got this assemblage of painted panels that I knew nothing about. They looked cool.

On the back of the frame was this label.

The label meant nothing to me but it was something to go on. A lead. The panels looked like stage mockups of some kind, I was guessing late 19th Century.

I googled Dido and Aeneas and learned that it was in fact an opera. It was composed by an Englishman named Henry Purcell sometime between 1683 and 1688.

And Glynbourne (sic)? That must have been written on the back of a panel, I have not taken it apart and seen the pieces out of frame

I stuck the word and the name of the opera into my search engine and the results came easy and quick. The real spelling is Glyndebourne and my opera was actually from September of 1965, a production of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Glyndebourne is an Opera House in Lewes, in East Sussex, about an hour's drive east of London. It was founded in 1934. The manor house is said to be about six hundred years old.

More interesting to me was the name of the set and costume designer, Lorenzo Ghiglia. Surely he was the author of my little paintings. Ghiglia was an Italian man born in 1936. 

I sent my findings to my friend Will Chandler who used to be a curator of Decorative Arts at the San Diego Museum and knows about such things.

He told me that there was a photograph of one of the witch's costumes in the Glyndebourne archives. I looked, he was right.

There is also a set painting at the Bridgeman Image Archives.

And the Victoria and Alpert Museum has a costume sketch design by Ghiglio for Dido that I can no longer access on my computer. 

I also found this watercolor sketch from the opera that once sold at auction.

Well now I know. Nothing monumental here but still interesting. I've learned something anyway. No telling how the paintings came to this particular estate in San Francisco, but that nexus is rarely established in my trade.

That wraps it up. Ghiglio died in 2014.

And that's all I know.

1 comment:

Blue Heron said...


Below is the full cast and supporting team for the performance in question. The great Janet Baker and the role of Dido, which she also recorded for Decca. I have the CD and it's a classic portrayal. John Prichard was the conductor, known for his opera recordings and marriage to singer Joan Sutherland.