Dido & Aeneas


Music by

Henry Purcell

Text by

Nahum Tate based on
Book IV of Virgil’s »Aeneid«

The setting is Carthage, in ancient times: the hero Aeneas flees from burning Troy and arrives in North Africa via the Mediterranean Sea with his fleet of ships, where he meets the beautiful queen Dido. They are lovestruck – and yet fail to bond because of fate’s intervention. Aeneas continues on his journey to form a new kingdom in Italy, while the abandoned Dido is left no alternative but to stay.

Henry Purcell composed his one »genuine« opera in 1689, a work that stood out for its musical ingenuity. Virgil’s epic story of the hero and Carthaginian queen told in »Aeneid« found its echo in his equally vivid music. Human passions are candidly unveiled – both their joys and excitements as well as their hardships and worries, all the way to deepest despair at the inexorability of divine will. Dido’s famous lament, with which she ends her life, and the opera draws to a close, and where an entire world is evoked in a few words, demonstrates Purcell’s extraordinary expressiveness. But his skill, too, in writing rhythmically concise dance movements and melodic choruses sealed the composer’s reputation among his contemporaries and ensured the admiration of a truly exceptional composer for posterity.  Song, performance and dance combine to create a special form of opera.




Phoebus, the Sun God, rises from the sea in his solar chariot. Together with the nereids he invokes the advent of Venus. Accompanied by the narrators, the observer travels through the waves. At the bottom of the sea he discovers the sunken city of Carthage.

At the palace, Arrival of the royal court

Trojan hero Aeneas has managed to save his small son Ascanius and carries his father from the ruins of burning Troy. Zeus has commissioned him to sail to Italy and found a new Kingdom with his comrades. In the course of their passage through the Mediterranean, the Trojans land at Carthage, the city ruled by Queen Dido. After her husband’s death, Dido has vowed never to remarry, pledging herself entirely to the welfare of her state. Dido honours Aeneas with a royal banquet. She falls in love with him. Dido is tormented by doubts. Belinda dispels her mistress’ misgivings. She knows that the Trojan Aeneas harbours similar feelings.

Witches’ scene (part I), Hunting company

The witches have assembled in a steep ravine. Their leader commands the destruction of Carthage as punishment for the irresponsible behaviour of Dido and Aeneas. A witch reports that Dido and Aeneas are hunting. The witch is ordered to disguise herself as Mercurius and announce Jove’s decision to Aeneas that he has to set sail for Italy at once. The remaining witches shall evoke a storm in order to drive the hunting company back to the city. Meanwhile, Belinda and the royal entourage are enjoying the beauty of the holy grove where they are resting. A seer interrupts their mood, accouncing that this is a place of doom. Dido arrives, followed by Aeneas who has felled a mighty boar. As soon as the lovers have retired to the tent prepared for them, a storm breaks. Aeneas alone is prevented by the witches from fleeing back to the city. The witch disguised as Mercurius commands him to leave for Italy immediately. The hero, although profoundly shaken, is prepared to fulfill his duty.

Mariners, Witches’ scene (part II), Lamento

The Trojans are preparing for their departure. The witches rejoice when they see the disconsolate Queen. Dido feels that the Gods have punished her with Aeneas’ faithlessness because she broke her vow; she refuses Aeneas’ offer to stay. The lovers accept the fate, that has failed to respect their innermost desires, and sacrifice their love. Belinda is unable to comfort. Aeneas sets sail with his comrades. Dido dies.

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