Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dido and Aeneas: Director's Notes and More

Director’s Notes by Elisabeth Harrington

Eighteen singers, accompanied by harpsichordist and string chamber orchestra, will transport audiences to ancient Carthage and a time when gods and witchery toyed with the fate of mortals. The hour-long opera is preceded by a brief historical presentation about the style of Henry Purcell and the mythology surrounding Dido, the legendary Queen of Carthage.

The performances will begin with a curtain warmer entitled "They say 'tis love," with soloists Jessie Rawson (soprano) and Victor Guerrero (tenor), and a small choral ensemble with harpsichord accompaniment. The music is attributed to Henry Purcell, and does indeed evoke his style. The work is referred to as a "dialogue." It features the basic elements of the opera: recitative, aria and choral response (no duets), and tells a brief story about how love causes pain and distress, but all can be forgiven with one "soft look." I think it will be a good introduction to the poetic and musical style that audience members will experience. We don't hear too much early opera these days!  Total production time, with intermission, is 90 minutes.

 More Notes on Purcell and Dido and Aeneas 

“After more than three centuries, Henry Purcell’s (1659-95) sole opera Dido and Aeneas remains a treasure. Considered the greatest operatic achievement of 17th century England and the first great English opera, even though a performance only takes little more than an hour, it is often justified as holding its position as the finest English opera ever written until the 20th century.

 Despite the opera’s mostly forgotten status from 1700 to the 1890’s when it was revived by the Royal College of Music at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895, who could ever forget the haunting aria, Dido’s Lament, “When I am Laid to Rest.”

 One of the first pieces of keyboard music I learned to play was a Purcell ‘Hornpipe’, and I’ve never forgotten this delightful melody with its inverted second part and the austere but perfect counterpoint in this little gem. Although he also borrowed and adapted folk tunes, Purcell was a supreme melodist who created some of the best tunes in English music.

Whatever may be said of [libretist] Nahum Tate’s liberties or weaknesses as his critics have claimed, his artful collaboration with Henry Purcell on this opera, and in particular this most haunting of arias (“Dido’s Lament”) is as successful as any librettist-composer relationship in Classical music.”
Patrick Hunt

“As well as a corking overture and some great operatic moments... Purcell hits the operatic jackpot in terms of a tune at the moment Dido dies. ‘When I am laid in earth’, is an aria of melancholic beauty perhaps unsurpassed in all opera, let alone those written by English composers. 'Ah Belinda' comes in at a close second as a mournful classic."
--Classic FM

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