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Conductor’s Notes

By David Fallis

Dido and Aeneas is rightly considered one of the greatest operas ever written in English – perhaps the very greatest – but the materials which have come down to us from the 17th and 18th centuries are full of mysteries. The main surviving musical score dates from the mid-18th century, over fifty years after the death of Henry Purcell. There is a libretto (text only) from 1689, entitled “An Opera perform’d at Mr. Josias Priest’s Boarding-School at Chelsey, by young gentlewomen”. Josias Priest was a good friend of Purcell, and a dancing master who ran a famous finishing school for young women; it was there that the only-known production of Dido took place. Unfortunately, there are many details in the libretto which are not reflected in the surviving score. For instance, the libretto of Dido has a prologue for which there is no music in the score. As well, there are numerous indications for dances in the libretto, but again, no music has survived. In our production, we have tried to fill in some of these gaps, and it is interesting to experience how this restores the greater length of an opera that is often considered a small chamber work. Out of the rich repertoire of Purcell’s music for the theatre we have created a prologue sketching the “back story” to the opera. We have added dances in many places where they are called for in the libretto. We are also pleased to have members of the Toronto Children’s Chorus in our chorus, as it was girls who were the original creators of these parts. Altogether, these aspects help restore the combination of grandeur and simplicity originally intended by the “Orpheus Britannicus”, Henry Purcell.

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