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Purcell
Dido and Aeneas
Synopsis
Introduction
Act I
Act II
Act III
Dido and Aeneas
  • Henry Purcell. Tragic opera in three acts. 1689 or earlier.
  • Libretto by Nahum Tate, after his play Brutus of Alba and Virgil's Aeneid.
  • First performance at Josias Priest's school in Chelsea, London, before December 1689, with a possible earlier performance as a court masque in 1684.
CHARACTERS
Dido, Queen of Carthage soprano
Aeneas, a Trojan prince baritone
Belinda, Dido's confidante soprano
Sorceress mezzo-soprano or baritone
Spirit, in the form of Mercury soprano
Sailor soprano or baritone

Dido, the widowed Queen of Carthage, entertains the Trojan Prince Aeneas, shipwrecked on his way to Italy, where he will found a new Troy. Dido and Aeneas are in love. Witches plot Dido’s destruction and the Sorceress conjures a storm, to break out when the royal couple are hunting, and the impersonation of Mercury by one of her coven. The storm duly breaks and the courtiers hasten back to town, while the false Mercury tells Aeneas he must leave Dido and sail for Italy. Aeneas and his sailors prepare to leave, to the delight of the witches. Aeneas parts from Dido, who kills herself once he has gone, her death lamented by mourning cupids.

It has been plausibly suggested that Purcell's short opera Dido and Aeneas was originally designed as a court masque, and possible topical political allusions have been proposed, notably in the light of the future James II's Catholicism, seen to deflect him from his duty as a future king, a hypothetical intrigue that casts the Jesuits as witches. The work owes something to John Blow’s Venus and Adonis of 1683. Most famous of all elements in the opera is Dido's lament, When I am laid in earth, with its descending ground bass borrowed from current Venetian practice.

 

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