We can consider the Opera Dido and Æneas (Dido and Aenea), written by the English composerHenry Purcell under many points of view, in order to relate it to the history of British music of the Baroque period. During that time, there wasn't a strengthened tradition of musical theatre in England, therefore, Henry Purcell's only “real” opera, although still example of the British masque tradition, is absolutely peculiar in the way it expresses the relationship between music and drama. The sad destiny of Dido,the Queen of Carthage, who's abandoned by Æenea (the Trojan hero who leaves her to sail towards Italy where he'll found a new town) and for whom she commits suicide, it unfolds through a recitative which is accompanied by a great variety of elements (the orchestra is composed only by string instruments): a sort of arioso which often opens itself to outstanding arias, like the popular final lament of the Queen, “When I am laid on earth”, one of the most known and moving pages of this opera. Among all the thematic aspects of this musical sheet, which have determined a re-evaluation by contemporary musicologists, is to notice the imaginary element close to Purcell, expressed by the witch, and the happy combination of fresh elements of people's culture and the mourning vibe, which conveys tension and dramatic intensity to an opera which largely contributed to create an awareness in British musical theatre.
Synopsis Dido and Æneas
Æenea, prince of Troja now on exile, is accepted in Dido's palace in Carthage after he fled his city on flames. Belinda, Dido's sister and confidant, sees her upset and tries to cheer her up by talking about the radiant future she'll embrace if she marries Æenea. Dido tells her tobe tormented by something she can't confess. Belinda has faith in creating an alley with the Trojans and reassures Dido, inviting her to accept the wedding with Æenea. The queen is not convinced but when the hero is welcomed in the palace, she accepts his love.
Ah! Belinda, Dido's Aria
In a cave, a group of witches are getting ready to sabotage Carthage and ruin Dido's reign. Before dusk, they want Dido to lose honour, love and life. The plan is to send an elf to Æenea disguised as Mercury, to convince him to sail off towards Italy, the final destination of his destiny. By doing so, he will abandon his lover Dido, breaking her heart and ruining her life. Meanwhile, Dido and Æenea are caught by a furious storm which forces them to quit the hunting they are entertaining themselves with, and go back to the palace. Accomplished the spell, the witches disappear. Dido and Æenea have stopped in a beautiful woods, when the queen, hearing the storm approaching, invites the sister to tell everyone to go back to the palace. Just as Æenea is left alone, the elf disguised as Mercury sent by the witches approaches him and tells him Zeus order: he should not remain in Carthage any longer, h e must sail to Italy. His destiny is in fact that of founding a new Troy. Æenea, complaining about his sad destiny has to follow the gods' will.
At the pier, the Trojan sailors are happily singing for their prompt departure. The witches, observing the scene, decide to curse Æenea and his ships with a terrible storm when they'll be in open water. The witches take pride of the tragedy about to fall on Carthage, once the queen's heart will be broken. At the palace, Dido and Belinda are worrying about Æenea who's nowhere to be seen: the queen has a bad feeling about it, which is confirmed when he arrives informing her of his conversation with Mercury. Æenea announces his departure under the gods' will. Dido, heartbroken, accuses him to be hypocritical because he's leaving her in favour of a reign. Æenea, distraught, suggests to go against the gods' will and remain in Carthage but Dido accuses him not to worth her love because he has once considered leaving her. Once Æenea is gone, Dido surrenders to the pain and dies in her sister's arms. On her grave cupids appear to watch and guard the unlucky queen's soul.