Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples

Type of paper: Report

Topic: Music, Theater, Aeneas, Opera, Performance, Mercury, Baroque, Love

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/30

Henry Purcell’s and Nahum Tate’s Dido and Aeneas is one of the best known English Operas ever composed and among the finest Baroque operas composer. After its composition in 1691, it quickly lost its favor due to the change in public taste in music, which also led to the abandonment of Bach and Vivaldi. There is only one record which states that the piece was ever performance during Purcell’s lifetime, and no record at all of it being performed again until the early twentieth century. As with most operatic works of the time, it is scored for a standard Baroque orchestra, nine soloists and an SATB choir.
Before watched the opera, I read up about the opera and managed to get hold of a synopsis of Book IV of the Aeneid. After reading it, I admit that I was a little disappointed. The exact story from the Aeneid is very like a Greek Tragedy – Aeneas, the great hero of Troy and the fabulously wealthy Queen of Carthage, Dido, were merely pawns in the hands of the gods. According to my initial reading, Purcell’s opera simply painted Dido as the victim of the jealously of a bunch of witches. This really seemed to take away a lot of the grand mythic flavor of the story. The libretto was written by Nahum Tate, a guy who became Poet Laureate of England after corrupting a whole lot of classic texts to suit seventeenth century English sensibilities. I must confess (again) that I attended the performance feeling more than a little downcast and a little irritated (at Tate).
As was expected, the opera opened with a slow, mournful Baroque overture, but it was a little difficult to get a clear view of what was going on as it was really dark. The Overture was accompanied by a lot of running around and lighting of torches which slowly revealed a large stage with some very impressive props and heavily clothed singers dressed, curiously, in clothes which belonged more to the seventeenth century AD than to the 6th or 7th Century BC
The sudden jerk in the overture when it shifter to the Allegro section was, though, slightly shocking because of the amount of activity which accompanied it. The short, sharp overture led on to Belinda’s equally short number ‘Shake from the cloud from off your brow’. The baroque orchestra, replete with a harpsichord, provided the perfect accompaniment to both the action of opening the stage and beginning the performance and Belinda’s short aria. The aria was pretty impressive because of how it modulated the emotion of the words. This was one of the numbers that struck me most powerfully because of the way it was crafted. This is why I selected it as the first important number for my analysis of the opera
The really interesting feature about this number was the way the music ‘clothed’ the words. The word ‘shake’ is first set to a dotted rhythm, which really accentuated the energetic feeling. There is an energy in the opening, which sets the perfect tone for the first act. The elongation of the word ‘flowing’ along with the same dotted rhythm creates a kind of ‘festive’ atmosphere. Which Dido completely ignores. What really struck me was how immediately after the bit about ‘pleasures flowing’ the minor key used for the word ‘shake’ so perfectly mirrors the psychology of Belinda – she, just like anybody else in that situation, was getting more concerned with Dido’s sadness. After this beautiful display of musical psychology, I was determined to listen as carefully as possible from now on.
The opera, as mentioned earlier, roughly follows the action of Book IV of the Aeneid. In Virgil’s epic, Dido falls in love with Aeneas because of the plot concocted by Venus and Juno. Jupiter, king of the Gods, did not approve of it and just as Dido’s and Aeneas’ romance was reaching its high point, Jupiter sent Mercury to warn Aeneas that if he did not leave Carthage immediately, he would lose his great destiny (to found Rome). In the opera, a set of witches who hated Dido create an ‘elf’ who parades as Mercury and tells Aeneas to leave. If this plot line is thought of in isolation, it is clearly misplaced – the whole character of the witches does not fit in with the opera or the epic. But this is something I could only say in retrospect. While I was listening to the witches’ choruses and their plotting, the darkened stage and the sharp, clear Baroque music of Purcell (which works so well with the whole classical idiom of witches) was simply awe-inspiring. The chillness which I felt listening to the witches plotting to destroy Dido was far more powerful than the excitement I felt when reading about Virgil’s epic. I felt Goethe’s famous statement about music more clearly in this section than almost anywhere else. He stated that where words end, music begins. I almost believe that the great German poet said that just after watching this scene!
Immediately after the witches’ scene, the opera jumps to the hunt where Dido and Aeneas consummate their love. The scene seemed quite standard and, apart from the generally good singing, the scene didn’t have much ‘kick’ to it. Until the counterfeit Mercury arrives! A storm struck which was heralded by some particularly rapid and ‘tempestuous’ music. Everyone, including Dido, scatter leaving Aeneas alone. It was then that Mercury came on stage. The character was painted blue and looked strangely zombie-like, but was too ‘full’ to be called a zombie. The one small number that he had to sing has stuck with me since I heard it. Mercury’s counter-tenor voice, coupled with the absence of the orchestra (only the harpsichord plays) created a very disturbing scene. This is why I have selected this extremely short number as the second important one for my analysis of the opera.
I call it disturbing because there was a certain kind of ‘dissonance’ between what was going on and the scene. The stage was brightly lit and, in spite of the storm and the frightened people, the props were still standing and looked fine. The fact that Mercury was cast as a counter-tenor made his character that much more ‘creepy’. He stood apart from Aeneas and commanded him to leave and all I could see of him was his hand gestures. The solo harpsichord accompaniment made it seem almost like a recitative, but the way the words were woven into the rhythm (or vice-versa) made it heavy enough to sound like an aria. The way Mercury delivered his message coupled with his counter-tenor range made the piece much more tense. I felt both helpless and exasperated because one word from someone, anyone, would have prevented the inevitable! The power with which this was portrayed made it one of the best sections in the performance.
After Mercury’s disappearance, Aeneas promised that he would follow ‘Jove’s’ command and leave at once. He finds his sailor’s making merry and romping about with the women of Carthage. Not wanting his departure to be made known to the Carthaginians, he told his men to leave their women and lie to them by saying that they would be back. The chorus ‘Come away fellow sailors’ made me feel utterly helpless. Despite being upbeat and in a major key, I could not stop felling that it was ‘hammering the last nail into Dido’s coffin’. At this point, I knew what was coming but did not know exactly how it would come. The people of Carthage had been betrayed and their Queen was doomed – it was Aeneas’ actions that did this, but he was driven to it by the witches’ plotting. But the witches were hardly ever seen and can’t be held accountable when nobody knows where they are! It might not have been the Greek tragedy I was hoping for but Purcell more than made it worth my while!
The way the finale was handled was breathtaking. Although Dido’s performance left something to be desired, her extraordinary singing and the incredible music made her finale one worth remembering. People usually say that it is only after the Gluckian reforms in opera that real psychology and emotion was portrayed on stage. Clearly these people have never watched Dido and Aeneas!
All in all, the performance was an exceptional one. The lighting, props, costumes and the general ambiance was perfect for the opera. The music was perfectly rendered and I think it is safe to say that Purcell would heartily approve of this performance! Baroque music is quite sparse in terms of its orchestration and Purcell was no different. But the fact is, Baroque musical geniuses were just that – musical geniuses, and, again, Purcell was no different! He made the most of what was available to him and created something that would last for hundreds of years. Handel once said that he would be sorry if his music only entertained his audience because he wanted to ennoble them as well. I began listening to the performance expecting to be let down by the drama and left feeling ‘ennobled’ by the music!

Works Cited

‘The Oxford Dictionary of Music’. Oxford Music Online. Accessed 25 Mar, 2015..
http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/public/;jsessionid=E37EF6A9F7171618DCEB94
59BE4B37F6.

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WePapers. (2020, December, 30) Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples. Retrieved September 25, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/
"Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples." WePapers, 30 Dec. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/. Accessed 25 September 2022.
WePapers. 2020. Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples., viewed September 25 2022, <https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/>
WePapers. Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples. [Internet]. December 2020. [Accessed September 25, 2022]. Available from: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/
"Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples." WePapers, Dec 30, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/
WePapers. 2020. "Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples." Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. Retrieved September 25, 2022. (https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/).
"Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 30-Dec-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/. [Accessed: 25-Sep-2022].
Dido And Aeneas Opera Report Report Examples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/dido-and-aeneas-opera-report-report-examples/. Published Dec 30, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.
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