Dido and Aeneas is part English Masque and part Italian Opera. It is unique in the works of the great English composer Henry Purcell (1656–95). The libretto is based on books one through four of The Aeneid. The opera was written for performance at a girls boarding school run by dancing master Josias Priest. It was first performed in October or December, 1689 (it may already have had a private court performance). The young ladies for whom this opera was written had received extensive and expert training in singing and dancing. The male roles were undertaken by professional performers. The original performance contained seventeen dances, although only the Triumphing Dance, Echo Dance of the Furies and the Sailors’ Dance (opening of fourth scene) are actually included in the score. Other dances are indicated but not fully rendered; for example Purcell calls for several Chaconnes.
Our production opens with a danced Prologue in which we see that Aeneas and his followers have landed in Carthage after fleeing from their ruined city of Troy (an audience in Purcell’s day would have been fully aware of the story. Dido meets Aeneas and falls in love during the Prologue, setting the scene for her opening aria. The dances in this piece are theatrical dance tunes written by Purcell. In the opera itself, we have added two Chaconnes following the composer’s instructions, and a final Minuet again in accordance with Purcell’s wishes. The dances have all been created specifically for this Opera Atelier production. They are inspired by English and French dances of Purcell’s era, which were recorded in 17th century dance notation.
- Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
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