Dido and Aeneas Article

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lennygoran
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Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:40 am

We saw our first Dido and Aeneas Fri April 29th at NYC's City Center--Kelli O’Hara starred-a review of that performance follows this article from Ellen Harris . Regards, Len

The More We Learn About ‘Dido and Aeneas,’ the Less We Know

By ELLEN T. HARRIS DEC. 15, 2017


Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” is one of the most beloved operas in the repertory. Divas flock to the title role; Dido’s final “Lament” is a showstopper. Schools and colleges worldwide perform it; early-music groups have made it a mainstay; Mark Morris’s choreographed version of it became one of his most acclaimed dances.

And yet what do we really know about this opera? Thirty years ago, I wrote a book about “Dido and Aeneas” — drawn from Virgil’s telling of the abandonment of Dido, the queen of Carthage, by the Trojan hero Aeneas — at a time we thought we had a good grip on it.

But I have just completed a wholly revised second edition, and while we’ve learned quite a bit about “Dido” in the intervening decades, we know even less than we did then, or at least less than we had imagined. We can no longer say with certainty in what year the opera was written, where it had its premiere, who performed it or even what the original score contained — the very things that normally provide the foundation for our understanding of a piece of music.

In 1987, when my book first appeared, the scholarly consensus was that “Dido and Aeneas” was written for Josias Priest’s boarding school for young gentlewomen. Its first performance was thought to have taken place there in 1689, the year after the Glorious Revolution brought the joint monarchy of William and Mary to the throne of England.

None of that can now be said with any assurance. The only surviving libretto from Purcell’s lifetime does say clearly that the opera was performed at Josias Priest’s boarding school. Unfortunately, it lacks a date. And the once-confident assumption that the opera was composed and had its premiere in 1689 took a hit with the discovery of a libretto for John Blow’s “Venus and Adonis,” the clear model for Purcell’s work, composed around 1683.

That is, if “Venus,” which we know was performed at the court of Charles II, was later performed at Priest’s school, “Dido” might well have followed the same path. Maybe “Dido” had its premiere at court. Maybe it was a court commission but for some reason not performed there. Maybe 1689 wasn’t even the correct date for the known performance at Priest’s school.

This takes us back to how that 1689 date was determined in the first place: A spoken “Epilogue to the Opera of ‘Dido and Aeneas,’ performed at Mr. Priest’s Boarding-School in Chelsey,” written by the poet and playwright Thomas D’Urfey, was published in his “New Poems” of 1690. Its date and the reference within the poem to “turning times” seemed to tie “Dido” to the Revolution of 1688.

This connection, in turn, led to the theory that the opera was an allegory connected to the coronation of William and Mary on April 11, 1689, a cautionary tale depicting the sad outcome if the foreign-born William (who was Dutch) was not true to his English queen and people. This is a plausible interpretation, except that the presumed date of 1689 for the opera’s premiere no longer holds a valid claim. This is not to say, of course, that the opera wasn’t performed in 1689, or that a new epilogue wasn’t written for that occasion, but simply that the opera was not originally written as an allegory of William and Mary.

What, then, were the “turning times” mentioned by D’Urfey? The 1680s saw three separate monarchies in England: Charles II reigned until his death in 1685; James II then came to the throne until the Revolution of 1688. If “Dido and Aeneas,” like Blow’s “Venus and Adonis,” had been first commissioned for a court performance, and if the opera was not intended to celebrate the ascension of William and Mary, then other scenarios could be considered.

Some have connected the opera to James II, with a suggested date of 1687, or to Charles II, with a proposed date of 1684. But only when a date of composition or performance is firmly determined will it be possible to say whether any of the royal allegories might be valid.

The most exciting discovery about “Dido and Aeneas” in the past 30 years was made by the English scholar Bryan White in 2009 and entails a letter written from Aleppo, in present-day Syria. For younger sons, who had little hope of inheriting family lands or wealth under the rule of primogeniture, a seven-year apprenticeship in Aleppo was a path to wealth and position as a merchant trader. Rowland Sherman was one such apprentice. He departed for Aleppo in 1688 and remained there the rest of his life.

A music lover, Sherman brought a harpsichord with him and later arranged for a small organ to follow. On Feb. 15, 1689, about four months after his arrival, he wrote to a merchant in London asking for a complete “account of musical compositions and performances in the town.” Specifically, he wondered if “Harry” had made a harpsichord transcription of the symphony in a masque (an operalike courtly entertainment) he wrote for Priest’s boarding school.

He went on to say that there was “another symphony” in C minor at the beginning of the second part that had a “neat point” of imitation all in eighth notes; he wrote that he would like this one, too, if it had been transcribed for harpsichord.

What a tantalizing letter. The masque performed at Priest’s school seems to refer to “Dido.” The description of the “second symphony” matches the overture of the opera. The first symphony would have been what preceded the long prologue to the opera, the text of which appears in the libretto but the music for which has been lost. The letter seems to confirm that Purcell did originally set this section to music. (As an extra treat, it appears to tell us that Henry Purcell was known to his friends as Harry.)

If indeed the letter does refer to Purcell’s opera, then by working backward to Sherman’s departure from London, the performance at Priest’s school would have occurred toward the end of 1687, placing that performance in the reign of James II. But even accepting that — and the evidence is far from definite — we have no better grip on when the opera was actually written, whether it was first performed at court and, if so, for which monarch: James II or Charles II. Even the date of 1689 for a production at Priest’s school is not necessarily eliminated, but simply downgraded to a subsequent performance, with a newly written epilogue for the occasion.

One might think that the lack of a definite place and date for the “Dido” premiere doesn’t much matter if we have Purcell’s music. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Here, too, there are gaping holes in our knowledge. The best musical source, known as the Tenbury manuscript, was once thought to date from a period close to the opera’s composition and performance. In fact, as I showed 30 years ago, the earliest possible date for this manuscript is 1777, the year the paper on which the score is written was first produced, and almost 100 years after the opera was written.

Although the Tenbury manuscript remains (almost unbelievably) the earliest source for the opera, it does not follow the libretto from Priest’s school and has been influenced, we know from textual variants, by the performances of “Dido and Aeneas” on the London stage in 1700 and 1704 in terms of its layout, inclusion of movements and many additional details. The full extent of this influence, however, still cannot be determined without earlier sources.

Further complicating the issue are a large number of musical sources contemporary with the Tenbury manuscript that preserve an updated adaptation of the score. As Bruce Wood has recently pointed out, these scores, despite their heavy-handed revisions, seem in places to preserve details of the original better than the Tenbury manuscript.

As a result, many questions remain, some of which reflect back to the question of the opera’s premiere and whether one imagines a cast made up largely of schoolgirls or a group of professional singers: Was the role of the villainous Sorceress originally written for a soprano or a bass? How should the musical issues in the alto parts of the choruses be resolved? And how much exactly does the Second Woman sing?

A piece of evidence or a score might turn up that answers all our questions. History and serendipity tell us as much. There are, however, no hot leads.

In the meantime, the mystery surrounding “Dido” gives full rein to the imagination. Scholars offer hypotheses that provide new ways of looking at the work. Musicians feel free to try a variety of stylistic approaches. Directors contemplate the sexual, social and political aspects of this famous story of love lost. The history of “Dido and Aeneas” has only grown richer as we have discovered how little we actually know.




https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/arts ... ction&_r=0




Review: Kelli O’Hara’s Operatic Turn in ‘Dido and Aeneas’

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI APRIL 29, 2016

Just 11 days after ending her Tony Award-winning run as Anna in Lincoln Center Theater’s acclaimed production of “The King and I,” Kelli O’Hara returned to a New York stage in another leading role. A surprising one.

On Thursday at City Center, she sang Dido in a semi-staged production of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” a milestone of English Baroque opera. And lest Ms. O’Hara feel a little out of place in a cast of experienced opera singers, her Broadway colleague Victoria Clark played the Sorceress.

The production, stylishly directed and choreographed by Doug Varone, was presented by MasterVoices (formerly the Collegiate Chorale), which, since last year, under its artistic director, Ted Sperling, has begun a partnership with City Center to present operas and operettas in English. Mr. Sperling, best known for his outstanding work on Broadway, conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which included a complement of period continuo instruments.

More and more opera companies are presenting classic musicals with casts of opera singers. It’s less common for musical-theater artists to cross this blurry divide from the other direction. Ms. O’Hara took a step with her Metropolitan Opera debut last season as Valencienne in a new production of Lehar’s “The Merry Widow.”

But that was a coquettish part. Dido is a tragic role: the widowed queen of Carthage, who falls in love with Aeneas, a Trojan prince, only to be abandoned, dying of grief at the end.


Ms. O’Hara’s gleaming voice was beautifully suited to the music. She floated lines with grace and deftly dispatched little embellishments and melismas. She acted the role touchingly, as in the crucial early scene when Aeneas, here the stalwart, mellow-voiced baritone Elliot Madore, arrived with a marriage proposal. As Ms. O’Hara’s Dido stared at Aeneas, emotions fluttered across her face as she wondered about his intentions.


She may have made one slight miscalculation. Ms. O’Hara can sing a Rodgers and Hammerstein number as if she were talking to you, while still bringing exquisite sound to her phrases. As Dido, she seemed overly concerned with lovely tone and legato phrasing, sometimes at the expense of making words clear. But she sang the great final lament with majestic clarity, without a trace of excess.

The production, though simple, was charming and, by the end, grimly effective. The choristers of MasterVoices, singing from memory with robust sound, stood on risers toward the back of the stage, sometimes using hand gestures to engage with the main characters. Eight members of Mr. Varone’s dance company, dressed in black, portrayed various courtiers, witches and drunken sailors.

Though Purcell wrote a prologue for “Dido,” the music has been lost. MasterVoices commissioned the musical-theater composer and lyricist Michael John LaChiusa to write a new one, “The Daughters of Necessity.” I could have done without the topical jokes about Donald J. Trump as the choristers heartily invited the audience to watch the show.

But once the prologue got going, it was gently comic, with appealing music that blends Broadway sass and Baroque pastiche. We soon met three women, dressed like laborers, who were, in fact, the three Fates, spinning the thread of life and deliberating Dido’s future: the sweet soprano Anna Christy, who later sang Belinda, Dido’s sister and handmaiden; the rich mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko; and the amazing Ms. Clark, as the Fate who makes the final calls on people’s mortality, and who later stole every scene she was in as Purcell’s Sorceress.


https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/30/arts ... eneas.html

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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by John F » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am

I've always wondered whether "Dido and Aeneas," with the leading role of Aeneas for a bass, can really have been written for a girls' school and first performed there by the students. This article answers no questions but raises lots of them. Of the alternatives, I'm inclined to believe it was first performed at court. Otherwise, the standard version of the opera, though dating from much later than when it was composed, has a firm and deserved place in the repertory. That doesn't mean no other versions will be concocted from other sources, or maybe already have been, but I don't need them. And as for performances, I still prefer the first I ever heard, the EMI recording originating in London's Mermaid Theatre with the great Kirsten Flagstad as Dido.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMG-ifcx_ao
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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:25 am

John F wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
And as for performances, I still prefer the first I ever heard, the EMI recording originating in London's Mermaid Theatre with the great Kirsten Flagstad as Dido.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMG-ifcx_ao
John have you seen any live performances you can recommend? We were a little disappointed that our City Center production didn't have surtitles. Regards, Len

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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 1:27 pm

Although I admire Purcell for other reasons, Dido has always seemed to me a mediocre work except for its famous finale. It seems intentionally unpretentious, to coin a phrase.

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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by John F » Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:30 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:25 am
John have you seen any live performances you can recommend? We were a little disappointed that our City Center production didn't have surtitles. Regards, Len
Never seen it.
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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:07 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 1:27 pm
Although I admire Purcell for other reasons, Dido has always seemed to me a mediocre work except for its famous finale. It seems intentionally unpretentious, to coin a phrase.
I love the work and when I presented it this year to our music community group, together with other theatre works by Purcell, the audience loved it - and many of them were unfamiliar with the opera. Curtis Price has done a lot of the research on Purcell but I don't know of any more recent musicologists who are 'on the case' regarding the performance in a girls' school. I'm assuming that singers were brought in from outside for that purpose.

Anyway, there is much to love in "D&A" as in all Purcell's music - and they were very accessible, especially when compared to Lully and Rameau (whom I'm going to present next year for "Baroque Theatre Music: Rameau". I've already warned the folks that this will be more difficult for them).

The group loved this song from "King Arthur", and I was moved when an elderly woman - who never contributes or speaks up - started smiling and tapping her foot!! This never happens. This is my own version of it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_XfmC3TwoY

I absolutely ADORE Purcell.

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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:23 pm

John F wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
I've always wondered whether "Dido and Aeneas," with the leading role of Aeneas for a bass, can really have been written for a girls' school and first performed there by the students. This article answers no questions but raises lots of them. Of the alternatives, I'm inclined to believe it was first performed at court. Otherwise, the standard version of the opera, though dating from much later than when it was composed, has a firm and deserved place in the repertory. That doesn't mean no other versions will be concocted from other sources, or maybe already have been, but I don't need them. And as for performances, I still prefer the first I ever heard, the EMI recording originating in London's Mermaid Theatre with the great Kirsten Flagstad as Dido.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMG-ifcx_ao
A wonderful singer, but that version (of the opening) is too slow and the rest is rather dated for my tastes. I prefer the more jaunty modern rhythms used on period instruments. There's a bronze statue of Kirsten Flagstad outside the stunning Oslo Opera House; the singer had a controversial life because she was married to a German and this effectively sent her into a virtually reclusive life after the war. It seems she is being given her due now many decades later; in fact, I a film was made about all that controversy and it might interest you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww3Zr-iyJ1c

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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by Lance » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:27 pm

John F, I'm right beside you regarding the EMI recording featuring Kirsten Flagstad. It remains my favourite of any I have heard or added to my collection though I did very much enjoy Dame Janet Baker on Decca.
John F wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
I've always wondered whether "Dido and Aeneas," with the leading role of Aeneas for a bass, can really have been written for a girls' school and first performed there by the students. This article answers no questions but raises lots of them. Of the alternatives, I'm inclined to believe it was first performed at court. Otherwise, the standard version of the opera, though dating from much later than when it was composed, has a firm and deserved place in the repertory. That doesn't mean no other versions will be concocted from other sources, or maybe already have been, but I don't need them. And as for performances, I still prefer the first I ever heard, the EMI recording originating in London's Mermaid Theatre with the great Kirsten Flagstad as Dido.
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Re: Dido and Aeneas Article

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:20 pm

John F wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:30 pm
Never seen it.
Thanks, there's a version with captions I will try to get to sometime. Regards, Len

"Overture" by Hickox, Richard, Maria Ewing, Mary Plazas, Patricia Rozario, James Bowman, Sally Burgess, Jamie MacDougall, Pamela Helen Stephen, Rebecca Evans, Karl Daymond"




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