The story is based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid. It recounts the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her.
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.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in English
About 1 hour
The opera opens with Dido in her court with her attendants. Belinda is trying to cheer up Dido, but Dido is full of sorrow, saying 'Peace and I are strangers grown'. Belinda believes the source of this grief to be the Trojan Aeneas, and suggests that Carthage's troubles could be resolved by a marriage between the two. Dido and Belinda talk for a time: Dido fears that her love will make her a weak monarch, but Belinda and the Second Woman reassure her that "The hero loves as well." Aeneas enters the court, and is at first received coldly by Dido, but she eventually accepts his proposal of marriage.
The cave of the Sorceress
The Sorceress/Sorcerer is plotting the destruction of Carthage and its queen, and summons companions to help with evil plans. The plan is to send her "trusted elf" disguised as Mercury, someone to whom Aeneas will surely listen, to tempt him to leave Dido and sail to Italy. This would leave Dido heartbroken, and she would surely die. The chorus join in with terrible laughter, and the Enchantresses decide to conjure up a storm to make Dido and her train leave the grove and return to the palace. When the spell is prepared, the witches vanish in a thunderclap.
A grove during the middle of a hunt
Dido and Aeneas are accompanied by their train. They stop at the grove to take in its beauty. A lot of action is going on, with attendants carrying goods from the hunt and a picnic possibly taking place, and Dido and Aeneas are together within the activity. This is all stopped when Dido hears distant thunder, prompting Belinda to tell the servants to prepare for a return to shelter as soon as possible. As every other character leaves the stage, Aeneas is stopped by the Sorceress's elf, who is disguised as Mercury. This pretend Mercury brings the command of Jove that Aeneas is to wait no longer in beginning his task of creating a new Troy on Latin soil. Aeneas consents to the wishes of what he believes are the gods, but is heart-broken that he will have to leave Dido. He then goes off-stage to prepare for his departure from Carthage.
The harbour at Carthage
Preparations are being made for the departure of the Trojan fleet. The sailors sing a song, which is followed shortly by the Sorceress and her companions' sudden appearance. The group is pleased at how well their plan has worked, and the Sorceress sings a solo describing her further plans for the destruction of Aeneas "on the ocean". All the characters begin to clear the stage after a dance in three sections, and then disperse.
Dido and Belinda enter, shocked at Aeneas’ disappearance. Dido is distraught and Belinda comforts her. Suddenly Aeneas returns, but Dido is full of fear before Aeneas speaks, and his words only serve to confirm her suspicions. She derides his reasons for leaving, and even when Aeneas says he will defy the gods and not leave Carthage, Dido rejects him for having once thought of leaving her. After Dido forces Aeneas to leave, she states that "Death must come when he is gone." The opera and Dido's life both slowly come to a conclusion, as the Queen of Carthage sings her last aria, "When I am laid in Earth", also known as "Dido's Lament." The chorus and orchestra then conclude the opera once Dido is dead by ordering the "cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, soft and gentle as her heart. Keep here your watch, and never, never part."
Dido (also known as Elissa) – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Queen of Carthage
Belinda – Soprano (lyric/soubrette)
Dido's sister and handmaid
Second woman – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano
Another handmaiden, Dido's attendant
Aeneas – Baritone/Tenor (lyric)
Sorceress/Sorcerer – Mezzo-soprano/Contralto/Countertenor/Bass (dramatic)
First witch/Enchanteress – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano
Second witch/Enchanteress – Mezzo-soprano
Spirit – Soprano/Countertenor
In form of mercury
First sailor - Tenor (leggiero)
Place of birth: London, England
Place of death: London, England
Henry Purcell was an English composer. Although it incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements, Purcell's was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no later native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.
“As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.”
Purcell’s music helped to change an entire nation- it is a well-known fact that Purcell was England’s Queen Mary II favorite composer. As a leading composer of the Baroque Period, his composition styles and techniques helped to change the face of music composition in Britain. Purcell was a brilliant inventor of sound and his sense of drama is what made his music so easily acceptable to contemporaries.
His one and only opera Dido and Aeneas acquired him the title of the greatest English opera composer up until the arrival of Benjamin Britten almost three centuries later.
Most prominent operas
Nahum Tate was an Irish poet, hymnist and lyricist, who became Poet Laureate in 1692. Tate is best known for The History of King Lear, his 1681 adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear and for writing The Enchanted Lovers (1678), a tragedy dealing with Dido and Aeneas which later was adapted as the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera.
A letter from the Levant merchant Rowland Sherman associates Dido and Aeneas with Josias Priest's girls' school in Chelsea, London no later than the summer of 1688. The first performance may have taken place as early as 1 December 1687, and evidence suggests that the opera was performed at the school again in 1689. Several scholars have argued that the work was composed for the English court, either for Charles II (and perhaps as early as 1684) or for James II. Following the Chelsea performances, the opera was not staged again in Purcell's lifetime.
Its next performance was in 1700 as a masque incorporated into an adapted version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at Thomas Betterton's theatre in London.
Aria – Thy hand Belinda... When I am laid (Dido)