By Henry Purcell
Elizabeth Kenny – musical director
Jack Furness – director
In the late 18th century, music historians decided, on not much evidence, that Purcell had composed Dido and Aeneas especially for schoolgirls.
Its Chelsea boarding school performance happened, undoubtedly, in 1688 or 1689; but scholars should have stopped to ask what a rising star like Purcell stood to gain by involving himself in fringe musical theatre.
Over the past 30 years or so, a different view has gained traction. Dido makes excellent (if unexpected) sense when reimagined as a gritty, at times rather risqué piece meant to impress King Charles II and his famously broadminded circle of connoisseurs.
Bruce Wood’s new Purcell Society edition takes full account of these research developments. Academy staff and students are thrilled to be collaborating with the Purcell Society and publisher Stainer & Bell to give this new edition its world premiere livestreamed airings.
Æneas, the Son of Venus and Anchises, having, at the Destruction of Troy, sav’d his Gods, his Father, and son Ascanius, from the Fire, put to Sea with twenty Sail of Ships: and, having been long tost with Tempests, was at last cast upon the shore of Lybia, where queen Dido (flying from the cruelty of Pygmalion, her Brother, who had kill’d her Husband Sichæus) had lately built Carthage. She entertain’d Æneas and his Fleet with great civility, fell passionately in Love with him, and in the end denied him not the last Favours. But Mercury admonishing Æneas to go in search of Italy, (a Kingdom promis’d him by the Gods) he readily prepar’d to Obey…
—John Dryden, headnote introducing ‘Dido to Æneas’ in Ovid’s Epistles Translated by Several Hands (London, 1680).
Virgil told the same story at greater length in the Æneid, Book IV. When Æneas sails for Italy, Dido kills herself, unable to live with the pain of betrayal. Purcell’s librettist, Nahum Tate, blended Shakespeare and Virgil very cleverly, turning the spiteful goddess Juno, implacable enemy of all things Trojan and Æneas in particular, into a Sorceress and Witches who seem to be much more comprehensively malicious – like their counterparts in Macbeth (which Purcell’s contemporaries also knew in an operatic version).
At Royal Academy Opera (RAO) we prepare our students for a career on the world’s most prestigious stages. A highly focused study environment includes one-to-one tuition, group classes and opera scenes, as well as three fully staged productions per year, performed in our award-winning Susie Sainsbury Theatre. Students have the opportunity to work with distinguished in-house professors and international visiting artists.
I am thrilled that we are able to attract world-class conductors, directors and designers to RAO to work with our students. For this production, the musical director is the internationally renowned lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, our Dean of Students and professor of lute and theorbo. We also welcome international opera director Jack Furness and costume designer Laura Jane Stanfield.
Even in an academic year that has been especially unpredictable in nature, we have continued to deliver a course that provides our students with a broad range of performance opportunities and experiences. Performances such as Dido and Aeneas are a vital part of our students’ training, enabling them to develop their skills in an environment closely replicating that which they will encounter in their professional lives.
Thank you to all of you who have supported them on this journey.
I wish you a very enjoyable evening.
Head of Opera
Bernadette Johns Dido
Grace-Marie Wyatt Belinda
Camilla Harris Second Woman
Silja Elsabet Brynjarsdóttir Sorceress
Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada First Witch
Isla MacEwan Second Witch
Cassandra Wright Spirit
Maximillian Lawrie First Sailor
Clara Orif soprano
Lauren Macleod mezzo-soprano
Samuel Stopford tenor
Jack Lee bass
Brenda Hurley Head of Opera
Michael Wardell Opera Company Manager
Tommy Keatley Assistant Company Manager
Jocelyn Bundy stage manager on book
Craig Fuller photographer
Aya Robertson music staff
Murray Richmond orchestra manager
Ashley Bolitho theatre technical manager
Faye Hetherington head of lighting
Grace Cowie head of automation
Jake Lawrence lighting programmer
Bristol Costume Services costume hire
WITH THANKS TO:
The Purcell Society and Stainer & Bell for allowing us to perform Bruce Wood's new edition of Dido and Aeneas
Professor Margaret Faultless, Jonathan Papp and Steven Devine for their assistance
Harriet Fowler and Sara Nogueira
Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd