Dido & Aeneas Synopsis


The Palace

Dido, the queen of Carthage, had determined to never remarry after the death of her husband. She is now tormented by her attraction to their Trojan guest, Aeneas. Belinda, her sister and attendant urges that uniting their two kingdoms would benefit both. Aeneas arrives and convinces Dido of his love, and she accepts him.


Scene 1 - The Sorcerres' Cave

A sorceress and her witches plot the downfall of Dido. They will conjure a storm and then send an elf, disguised as Mercury, to remind Aeneas that the Gods have decreed his duty is to set sail for Italy.

Scene 2 - The Grove

Dido and Aeneas, accompanied by their court, are enjoying a day outdoors with a hunt and feasting. Their festivities are ended by the promised storm, and as all are rushing back to the palace, Aeneas is stopped by the disguised Mercury. Aeneas consents to what he believes are the orders of the Gods, but he is distraught because he must leave Dido.


Scene 1 - The seaside

At the shore, Aeneas' men are preparing to set sail. The witches gloat over their success.

Scene 2 - The Palace

Dido has been informed of her lover's planned departure and furiously dismisses Belinda's attempts to calm her. She confronts Aeneas over his unforgivable betrayal of their love. Though he vows to stay, she orders him away. Knowing she must die at his leaving, she asks that she be remembered well.

Dido & Aeneas Background

Dido and Aeneas is based on Book IV of Virgil’s epic The Aeneid. It is one of the earliest known English operas, and one of the most important and often performed operas written in the Baroque period. It is also Henry Purcell’s only true opera; that is, his only all-sung dramatic work.

What is most remarkable for such an important work in the opera repertoire, is that so little about it is known. A copy of a libretto from the 1700’s exists (possibly from the first performance), so we know it originally was composed as a Prologue and Opera. However, the music for the Prologue, the end of the act II Grove scene, and several dances have been lost, and indeed no score exists in Purcell’s handwriting.

Moreover, the dates of composition and the first performance are uncertain. It is known, through references in letters, that it was performed at a girls’ school in Chelsea, London, some time before the end of 1689. However, some scholars argue that the opera was composed and performed for the Royal Court of either James II or Charles II with a date as early as 1684, and argue that the reference in the Prologue to the joy of a marriage between two monarchs is an allegorical one.

Whatever history of the opera is waiting to be uncovered, what we do know, and perhaps most important of all, is that Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is a deeply moving and unforgettable opera.