An interview with Bethany Hill

Bethany Hill is performing as Dido in our upcoming performance of Dido and Aeneas.

Bethany Hill is an Adelaide based musician and performer. Her work as a versatile operatic soprano has been critically acclaimed.

A specialist in Early Music, Bethany also enjoys regularly collaborating with composers on new work. She aspires to approach all musical genres with a fresh pair of ears and an open mind, and delights in the evocation of emotional response from audiences through her performances.

We spoke with Bethany about her upcoming performance as Dido in Dido and Aeneas.

What is it like taking on the role of Dido after playing the role of Belinda with the Melbourne Recital Centre?

The easiest way to describe it would be like having a “character gear change”. Musically the notes aren’t terribly dissimilar between the two roles; stylistically there are differences but both (surprisingly) have almost the same range. However, switching characters has been the challenging part. Belinda is so hopeful, so joyous. Dido has the weight of the world on her shoulders, even when she finally admits she’s in love!

Is there anything you learnt from Sally-Anne Russell that you will want to add to your role?

There is always something to learn through observing another artist, and working with Sally-Anne and the other cast members (Jacqui Dark & Jeremy Kleeman) was like hitting the jackpot! Sally-Anne has sung Dido multiple times, and she’s a master of that role. I admire her because she continues to “play” with the music and the character. I find that so appealing. I hope that I can continue to find new things within Purcell’s score and in Dido’s character.

What is your favourite characteristic of Dido the character?

She’s complex, and I love that. There are a few characteristics that are my favourites: her prevailing love and protection of her kingdom, her enduring strength, and her softer side which only makes a brief appearance but is definitely there.

What is your favourite piece to sing from Dido?

This is a tricky question to answer, because how can anyone get past The Lament? It’s glorious. Dido’s often overlooked first aria is exquisite too. I think my favourite part is actually the recitative between Dido and Aeneas in the penultimate scene. It is packed with raging emotions and Dido utters my favourite diva line “For ‘tis enough, whate’er you now decree, that you had once a thought of leaving me.”

What were the main challenges you faced in preparing to be Dido?

The pressure of singing such a famous aria and wanting to do it justice. I will never please everyone – it’s the subjective nature of our industry. Also, the preconception that Dido is strictly a mezzo-soprano role. Purcell and his Baroque contemporaries wrote for the voices he was surrounded by and predates the fach system. I guess audiences have been exposed to some amazing mezzo-sopranos as Dido, and texturally it works. But many sopranos have also sung the role. I would like to convince the audience that these things may not matter so much if the context is right.

How do you feel about the performance date getting closer and closer?

Quite excited. Sure, there are nerves, but they’re the good sort!

What is it like working with Nicholas Cannon, bringing his new production to life?

Nick is energetic, is an advocate of physical theatre, and a performer himself. An excellent combination! Nick has directed me a few times already, so I’m very comfortable with his direction. We tackled Dido together in 2016 too. This is an excellent situation to be in because it means we can hopefully polish the role, explore new territory, and delve further into Purcell’s masterpiece.