Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell

Following is a synopsis of Dido and Aeneas (Dido and Æneas). Photos are from the scene production staged by BASOTI in San Francisco, CA during the summer of 2000. Belinda, The Queen Dido's sister, was sung by Elizabeth Harmetz.

Not only is Dido and Aeneas England's oldest opera it is the only true Opera that Henry Purcell composed. The rest of his baroque operatic work are considered "semi-operas" in that the drama is predominately conveyed by spoken dialogue. It further distinguishes itself from other operas in the baroque time period in that a major character dies at the end. Dido and Aeneas is an adaptation of a portion of Virgil's Aeneid. In Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, witches are substituted for the Aeneids gods. The Opera is thought to have been a celebration to mark the coronation of protestant monarchs William and Mary, as they are represented in the allegorical prologue as Phœbus and Venus.

Dido and Aeneas was first performed at an all girls boarding-school in 1689. A copy of the libretto survives at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The two surviving scores date from half a century later and are considered incomplete. The end of the Grove scene is missing as demonstrated by the it ending in the dominant key of A instead of returning to the original Key of D. This may have been a Chorus or dance movement as there seems no loss of story and Josias Priest the finishing schools headmaster, was a dance master. French opera-ballet tradition proscribes that each section ends with a set piece of dance. Since the original production was most likely an all-woman cast the tenor and bass parts in the chorus where probably added later.

The most famous musical pieces are "Ah! Belinda" and Dido's lament (When I am laid in earth).

Composer: Henry Purcell
Librettist: Nahum Tate
Source: Aeneid by Virgil
Catalogue: Z. 626


Set in Carthage at the court of Queen Dido, in mythical time period.

Scene I, Dido's Palace

Dido, Queen of Carthage, is brooding in her palace. Belinda suggests her brooding may be due to her love for the Trojan prince Aeneas. Belinda intimates that Aeneas already loves her. Belinda suggests that a union between them both would bring Dido the happiness she deserves and will glorify Carthage.

Scene II, Dido's Palace

Aeneas, who has just arrived in Carthage after fleeing from Troy following defeat in the Trojan War, enters and proclaims his devotion for Dido. Dido accepts his love and the courtiers celebrate.

Scene III, The Witches' cave

A sorceress with the aid of some witches conspire for Aeneas' departure, Dido's ruination and the destruction of Carthage. Meanwhile, the lovers are embarked upon a hunt as a symbol of courtship.

Scene IV, The Grove

As the hunting party pauses Belinda, and an accompanying woman, sing of the locations delight. Thunder is heard in the distance. The witches have conjured a storm to bring an end to the lovers hunting party. Dido, who has fully given her love to Aeneas returns safely to the palace. In the storm, the spirit of the sorceress appears before Aeneas, disguised as Mercury and reminds him he must leave and continue his quest as he is fated to be the founder of a new Troy and the Roman Empire. Aeneas laments his fate.

Scene V, Harbor

Aeneas' men are driven to their ships by the witches and the sailors jovially make ready to leave. The Sorceress and the witches dance to their success.

Scene VI, Dido's death

Dido fears that Aeneas will abandon her. Aeneas, torn, seeks to defy the gods and stay. Dido is angered and forces him to leave: She will not endure a lover who has entertained leaving her. Belinda fails to appease Dido's grief and Dido plans her own suicide. As Aeneas ship disappears, Dido throws herself on her funeral pyre.


Dido, Queen of Carthage (1st Neried): Soprano
Belinda, her sister (2nd Neried): Soprano
Aeneas, the Trojan Prince (Pheobus): Tenor
Second Woman (Venus): Soprano
Sorceress (Spring): Mezzo-soprano
Spirit (She): Mezzo-soprano
First Witch (1st Sheperdess): Soprano
Second Witch (2nd Sheperdess): Soprano
Sailor: Tenor
(He): Bass
Chorus of Courtiers, Witches and Sailors


1. Overture

Scene I:

2. Shake the cloud from off your brow (Belinda, Chorus)
3. Ah! Belinda, I am press'd 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)

Scene II:

8. See, your royal guest appears (Belinda, Aeneas, Dido)
9. Cupid only throws the dart (Chorus)
10. If not for mine, for empire's sake (Aeneas)
11. Pursue thy conquest, Love (Belinda)
12. To the hills and the vales (Chorus)
13. The Triumphing Dance

Scene III:

14. Prelude for the Witches
15. Wayward sisters, you that fright (Sorceress, First Witch)
16. Harm's our delight and mischief all our skill (Chorus)
17. The Queen of Carthage, whom we hate (Sorceress)
18. Ha, ha, ha (Chorus)
19. Ruin'd ere the set of sun (Witches, Sorceress)
20. Ha, ha, ha (Chorus)
21. But ere we this perform (Witches)
22. In our deep vaulted cell (Chorus)
23. Echo Dance of the Furies

Scene IV:

24. Ritornello
25. Thanks to these lonesome vales (Belinda, Chorus)
26. Oft she visits this lov'd mountain (Second Woman)
27. Behold, upon my bending spear (Aeneas, Dido)
28. Haste, haste to town (Belinda, Chorus)
29. Stay, Prince, and hear great Jove's command (Spirit, Aeneas)

Scene V:

30. Prelude for the sailors
31. Come away, fellow sailors (First Sailor, Chorus)
32. The Sailors' Dance
33. See the flags and streamers curling (Sorceress, Witches)
34. Our next motion (Sorceress)
35. Destruction's our delight (Chorus)
36. The Witches' Dance (Jack of the Lanthorn Dance)

Scene VI:

37. Your counsel all is urg'd in vain (Dido, Belinda, Aeneas)
38. Great minds against themselves conspire (Chorus)
39. Thy hand, Belinda (Dido)
40. When I am laid in earth (Dido)
41. With drooping wings ye Cupids come (Chorus)

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(Images courtesy of and used with permission of BASOTI© 2000.)