Dido and Aeneas Programme Notes

Dido and Aeneas


Act One

Scene: The Palace

Dido, Queen of Carthage (also called Elissa), is discovered in sorrowful mood, surrounded by her court and attended by her lady-in-waiting, Belinda. Belinda soon diagnoses that it is the presence of Aeneas, Dido’s princely Trojan guest, which is at the root of the queen’s unhappiness. The chorus of courtiers support Belinda’s suggestion that a marriage between the two monarchs would solve Carthage’s problems, and that Aeneas is in any case as much in love as Dido. Aeneas enters with his train. Dido receives him coolly, but Belinda and the courtiers support his suit. The scene ends with a dance of triumph as Dido’s acceptance of Aeneas is celebrated by the whole court.

1 Shake the clouds from off your brow Belinda

2 Banish sorrow, banish care Chorus

3 Ah! Belinda, I am pressed with torment Dido

4 Grief increases by concealing Belinda, Dido

5 When monarchs unite, how happy their state Chorus

6 Whence could so much virtue spring? Dido, Belinda

7 Fear no danger to ensue Belinda, Second Woman, Chorus

8 See, your Royal guest appears Belinda, Aeneas, Dido

9 Cupid only throws the dart Chorus

10 If not for mine, the empire’s sake Aeneas, Belinda

11 To the hills and the vales Chorus

12 The Triumphing Dance

Act Two

Scene 1: The Cave

The scene changes to a cave in which lives the evil Sorceress. She invokes her wicked companions to join her in plotting the destruction of Dido and of Carthage. For a little extra mischief, they plan to conjure a storm to spoil the hunting expedition of the court. The whole scene, with its mocking choral laughter, its references (in the strings) to the horn calls of the hunt in progress, and its echo chorus and dance, illustrate the insidious beauty which can attend the course of evil as surely as that of good.

13 Wayward sisters, you that fright Sorceress, First Witch

    Harm’s our delight Chorus

14 The Queen of Carthage, whom we hate Sorceress

    Ho ho ho! Chorus

15 Ruined ere the set of sun? First and Second Witch, Sorceress

    Ho ho ho! Chorus

16 But ere we this perform First and Second Witch

17 In our deep vaulted cell Chorus in the manner of an echo

18 Echo Dance of Furies

Act Two

Scene 2: The Grove

Dido, Aeneas and their entourage pause in the grove during their hunting expedition. Belinda and the courtiers sing of the sylvan beauty of the grove. The Second Woman reminds them that the virgin goddess Diana frequents this place. It was here that the hunter Actaeon met his fate, torn apart by his own hounds after glimpsing the naked goddess bathing. The idyll is interrupted by distant thunder, and Belinda warns everyone to hurry back to town to seek shelter from the approaching storm.  Aeneas alone is stopped by the appearance of Mercury – in reality, the Sorceress’s ‘trusty elf’ in disguise. The false spirit reminds Aeneas of Jove’s command that he must found a new Troy in Italy. Aeneas is left to reconcile himself to fulfilling the gods’ commands and abandoning Dido, a task, he says, more difficult than death.

19 Ritornelle

20 Thanks to these lonesome vales Belinda, Chorus

21 Oft she visits this lone mountain Second Woman

22 Behold, upon my bending spear Aeneas, Dido

23 Haste, haste to town Belinda, Chorus

24 Stay, Prince, and hear great Jove’s command Spirit, Aeneas

Act Three

Scene 1: The Harbour at Carthage

All is prepared for the departure of Aeneas and the Trojan fleet. A sailor urges his companions to a drunken and cynical leave-taking of their Carthaginian girlfriends. The Sorceress and her supernatural band celebrate the success of their plot.

25 Come away, fellow sailors A Sailor, Chorus

26 The Sailors’ Dance

27 See the flags and streamers curling Sorceress, First & Second Witch

28 Our next motion Sorceress

29 Destruction’s our delight Chorus

30 The Witches’ Dance

Act Three

Scene 2

Dido is full of foreboding, and Aeneas’ appearance confirms her worst fears. She taunts his attempts at explanation and when he announces his determination to flout the gods and stay with her, she will have none of a lover who had once thought of leaving her. It is not until his departure that she admits that ‘death must come when he is gone’. The chorus prepares the way for Dido’s great farewell to life: the aria ‘When I am laid in earth’, one of the greatest moments in all opera. “Remember me,” sings the Queen, “but ah! forget my fate”. A chorus of mourning Cupids sing of scattering roses on the tomb of the tender-hearted queen, providing a uniquely beautiful ending to Purcell’s opera.  

31 Your counsel all is urged in vain Dido, Belinda, Aeneas

32 Great minds against themselves conspire Chorus

33 Thy hand, Belinda; darkness shades me Dido

34 When I am laid in earth Dido

35 With drooping wings Chorus