DIDO AND AENEAS, the opera by Henry Purcell which we are about to present, belongs to a genre called, “masque”, a form of entertainment which was in vogue during the 11th and 12th centuries in the theatres of the English Court. Resembling the French “ballet de court” and similar to the Italian “intermezzo”, it began to die out in the 17th century with the rise of true lyric opera.

One finds in DIDO AND AENEAS, almost all of the characteristics of the “masque”, in particular many dances which conclude scenes and many allegoric elements, such as witches. The opera was written specifically for a girls college in Chelsea, of London, and was directed by Josias Priest, the director of dance and choreography at the school (which explains the presence of so many dances). With the exception of Aeneas, a tenor, all the roles are women. This is probably due to the fact that in 1689, the year of the first performance, the roles were performed by the girls of the school.

When one speaks of Purcell, one cannot avoid mentioning Shakespeare. In reality, the two never met, but Purcell’s music was often used during that period in Shakespeare’s comedies. Purcell does not refrain himself from inserting a reference to Shakespeare. The three witches call to mind those of MACBETH, which was first performed around 1606. In DIDO AND AENEAS the three witches, through trickery, will convince Aeneas to leave.

The peculiarities which characterize our version of DIDO AND AENEAS are in the interpretation of the opera. Holding true to the original version first of all, all roles are performed by women and secondly each woman performs two roles. The singers, in fact, interpret a character and her double. Dido, for example, who personifies courage, devotion and dedication to her people, is performed by the same artist who plays the sorceress, evil incarnate. This is to underline, by careful attention given to the physicality and expressivity of our singing actors, the duality which characterizes mankind. In the stage direction much attention has been given to the choir, especially in the interpretation of the witches who represent, not only physically, but also vocally, the evils which originate from madness, aggressiveness, and emotional states such as fear and desperation.

We want to underline the course of events which lead Dido to such a desperate act as suicide and which in the libretto are not brought out. For this reason we have chosen to insert in the opera various selections from Virgil’s ENEIDE. Dido’s actions, in fact, are caused not only by her disillusionment and the suffering created by Enea’s abandonment, but also from the remorse for the broken promise of eternal fidelity to her husband, Sicheo, (Book 4, verse 553, “…I have not kept my promise of fidelity to Sicheo…”) and from her fear to face the judgement of her people. This is underlined by Virgil in lines 173-195 when he writes of Reputation, “of which no other pestilence is so rapid”. Gossip which flies from mouth to mouth amongst a people is able to build a monument to a man as well as destroy his reputation.

Lastly, in this DIDO AND AENEAS, one of the opera history’s masterpieces, great care has been given to the lighting which brings out and emphasises the areas in which our protagonists move.