I’m a Purcell enthusiast – I’m particularly enthusiastic about his choral music, and wrote a series of posts about his religious music which you can find here Purcell – religious music | Saturday Chorale so having written about Blow’s Venus and Adonis last week perhaps it was inevitable that this week I’d be writing about Dido and Aeneas. It’s in three acts, had its first performance either at Josias Priest’s school in Chelsea, London, in 1689, or as a court masque in 1684 (nobody really knows). The libretto is by Nahum Tate, after his play Brutus of Alba and Virgil’s Aeneid.
Dido, the widowed Queen of Carthage, entertains the Trojan Prince Aeneas, shipwrecked on his way to Italy, where he will found a new Troy. Dido and Aeneas are in love. Witches plot Dido’s destruction and the Sorceress conjures a storm, to break out when the royal couple are hunting, and the impersonation of Mercury by one of her coven. The storm duly breaks and the courtiers hasten back to town, while the false Mercury tells Aeneas he must leave Dido and sail for Italy. Aeneas and his sailors prepare to leave, to the delight of the witches. Aeneas parts from Dido, who kills herself once he has gone, her death lamented by mourning cupids.
If you go to to Naxos’ page that I quoted above you’ll see that they suggest that :
It has been plausibly suggested that Purcell’s short opera Dido and Aeneas was originally designed as a court masque, and possible topical political allusions have been proposed, notably in the light of the future James II’s Catholicism, seen to deflect him from his duty as a future king, a hypothetical intrigue that casts the Jesuits as witches
I don’t agree, Charles II had Catholic sympathies, indeed he converted on his death bed, and was married to a Catholic and would have been offended at such allusions, he was a famously tolerant man, but would not have tolerated being insulted in his own court. Furthermore like his king Purcell had Catholic sympathies and was married to a Catholic, all of which leads me to suspect that those who proposed the "possible topical political allusions" were letting their enthusiasm for a somewhat dubious thesis get the better of them. Enjoy :-).
• Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas, opera in three acts, Z. 626
• Dido: Maria Ewing, soprano
• Aeneas: Karl Daymond, baritone
• Belinda: Rebecca Evans, soprano
• Sorceress: Sally Burgess, mezzosoprano
• Second Woman: Patricia Rozario, soprano
• First Enchantress: Mary Plazas, soprano
• Second Enchantress: Pamela Helen Stephen, mezzosoprano
• Voice of Mercury: James Bowman, countertenor
Collegium Musicum 90
Conducted by Richard Hickox
Video & Performer Information Source: Purcell: Dido and Aeneas, opera in three acts, Z. 626 | Richard Hickox – YouTube. Published on Oct 18, 2012 by Simon Birch.
You can get the libretto from CUNY as a PDF here: dido-libretto.pdf.