Dido & Æneas, Opera by H. Purcell
Baroque was a musical period that did not shy away from grandeur. Impressive music and monumental stories went hand in hand, and the classic opera Dido & Æneas by British composer Henry Purcell is an apt example of this trend. Composed in the 1680s and most likely first performed at Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London on 11 April 1689, the piece stands out both in its composer’s catalogue as well as in Baroque’s pantheon of stage works. Staying true to the composition’s sophisticated origins, Baroque Opera House revives Dido & Æneas at the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, a fantastically preserved 17th-century building that lends its stately charm to the performance and turns it into a completely immersive experience.
Dido & Æneas is Henry Purcell’s most significant opera and the only fully sung stage work he produced. The libretto was courtesy of Nahum Tate, a frequent collaborator. With an allegorical prologue, the opera was believed to allude to various monarchical liaisons in England of the late 17th century. Some speculate the title characters represent William and Mary, while others claim Tate himself admitted that James II was his inspiration for the character of Æneas. Whatever its historical references, Dido & Æneas borrows heavily from Book IV of Aeneid by the eminent Greek dramatist Virgil. It takes us back to the time of queens and heroes, and it cleverly alternates between the heart-wrenching melodrama between the main characters and lighter asides. Among the latter we can count the rowdy sailor choruses that are among the opera’s standout elements.
The organiser Baroque Opera House stages Dido & Æneas in the regal atmosphere of the Chapter Hall of Scuola Grande dei Carmini in Venice. There, Giambattista Tiepolo’s impressive frescoes look down upon the on-stage action and amplify its tension and effectiveness. The performance features a chamber orchestra composed of Baroque-era instruments. It is an excellent opportunity for opera lovers to immerse themselves completely in the Baroque atmosphere and enjoy Purcell’s masterpiece.