Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Happy birthday, Dido and Aeneas

If the Concert Programme announcer this morning is to be believed, on this day in 1689 Henry Purcell’s short opera Dido and Aeneas was first performed. The text by Nahum Tate was based on an idea by Virgil.

It was the first great English opera and, much as I admire Birtwistle and Adès, its only real challenger has been Britten’s Peter Grimes which made its debut in 1945. That’s a long time between masterpieces.

So here are Sarah Connolly as Dido and Lucy Crowe as Belinda in the final scene, the aria “When I Am Laid in Earth”, also known as “Dido’s Lament”. You can see the classic Janet Baker version from Glyndebourne in 1966 here, but I reckon this, from the Royal Opera House in 2009,  is even finer: we live in a golden age of opera singing. It’s a long story but here’s the skinny: Dido has killed herself because her man done gone, and these are her dying words:
Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

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