Dido & Aeneas - Opera by Henry Purcell

Brief history of opera

What is an opera?

Opera is a sung stage drama set to music which usually plays continuously throughout the performance.

What is the difference between opera and musicals?

Musicals are plays with music; the music is incidental and the action is advanced mainly through dialogue.

Why is opera so special?

Opera is a unique fusion of words, music and design. These ingredients, when combined, deliver large amounts of information to the audience simultaneously – information about the characters’ outlook, feelings, motivations and actions. If the composer, librettist, designer and director all rise to the challenges of the art-form, the result, for the audience, can be uniquely absorbing, moving, and thrilling.

The opera

Opera is a form of theater in which the drama is conveyed wholly or predominantly through music and singing. Opera emerged in Italy around the year 1600 and is generally associated with the Western classical music tradition. Opera uses many of the elements of spoken theater such as scenery, costumes, and acting. Generally, however, opera is distinguished from other dramatic forms by the importance of song and conventions of vocal technique. [source : New World Encyclopedia]

Synopsis in pictures

Common Opera voice types

Common Opera voice types


For females, the highest voice type is the soprano. In operatic drama, the soprano is almost always the heroine because she projects innocence and youth. Within this category, there are other sub-divisions such as, coloratura soprano, lyric soprano, and dramatic soprano. Some of the roles sung by these voice types include: Mimi in La bohème (lyric) and Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos (dramatic)


The mezzo-soprano has a lower range than the soprano. Many mezzo-sopranos sing the so-called "trouser" roles, portraying young boys or men. They can also be the villainesses or motherly types. This category is also sub-divided into coloratura mezzo, dramatic mezzo, and lyric mezzo. One of the most well known roles for a dramatic mezzo is the fiery gypsy Carmen in the opera of the same name.


For males, the tenor is generally considered to be the highest male voice in an opera, and is most often the hero or the love interest of the story. There are many different types of tenor voices. Two of the more common ones are lyric tenors, whose voices have high, bright tones, and dramatic tenors whose voices have a darker sound with a ringing quality in the upper range. Some of the more famous roles for tenors include Rodolfo inLa bohème (lyric) and Radames in Aida (dramatic).

[source : Opera Philadelphia]

Purcell- Dido & Aeneas

Synopsis for Dido & Aeneas


  • Dido, the widowed Queen of Carthage, entertains the Trojan Prince Aeneas, shipwrecked on his way to Italy, where he will found a new Troy.
  • Dido and Aeneas are in love.
  • Witches plot Dido’s destruction and the Sorceress conjures a storm, to break out when the royal couple are hunting, and the impersonation of Mercury by one of her coven.
  • The storm duly breaks and the courtiers hasten back to town, while the false Mercury tells Aeneas he must leave Dido and sail for Italy.
  • Aeneas and his sailors prepare to leave, to the delight of the witches. Aeneas parts from Dido, who kills herself once he has gone, her death lamented by mourning cupids

[source : Naxos.com]

Location: The Heavens; The Carthage Shore

This opening scene comprises two parts. The first establishes the conflicting interests of the Gods, before seamlessly shifting to the seashore in Carthage where Aeneas and his Trojan fleet have been safely washed up after the storm has abated.

A Synopsis

Dido, queen of Carthage, cannot bring herself to admit her love for the Trojan prince Aeneas, a guest at her court; he is soon to resume his journey in search of a site for a new city to replace Troy. Her confidante Belinda and her courtiers persuade Dido to speak her love and the act ends with general rejoicing.

A sorceress and her witches plot the downfall of Dido and Carthage. Their plan is to "conjure up a storm" and force the lovers to take refuge in a cave, where an elf, disguised as Mercury, will remind Aeneas of his duties. Meanwhile, Dido and Aeneas, having spent the night together, are being entertained in a grove by Belinda and a courtier. A storm arises and the lovers are separated; Aeneas enters the witches' cave and is commanded by the false Mercury to leave Carthage.

At the quayside Aeneas's men are preparing to leave. The witches gloat over their victory and sing of their delight. Back at court, Dido has been informed of her lover's planned departure and seeks Belinda's counsel. The queen confronts Aeneas, silences his excuses and dismisses him. After her lament ("When I am laid in earth"), Dido kills herself. Cupids mourn her, scattering roses on her tomb.

[source : Operas Arias Composers]

Dido & Aeneas - Act I

Dido's court

The opera opens with Dido in her court with her attendants. Belinda is trying to cheer up Dido, but Dido is full of sorrow, saying 'Peace and I are strangers grown'. Belinda believes the source of this grief to be the Trojan Aeneas, and suggests that Carthage's troubles could be resolved by a marriage between the two. Dido and Belinda talk for a time, and then Belinda and the Second Woman sing a duet. The court then again tries to raise Dido's spirits, followed by Aeneas entering the court. He is at first received coldly by Dido, but she eventually accepts his proposal of marriage. [source : Ballet & Opera]

Dido & Aeneas - Act II

Scene 1: The cave of the Sorceress

The witch is plotting the destruction of Carthage and its queen, and calls in her companions to help her in her evil plans. She plans to send her "trusted elf" disguised as Mercury, someone to whom Aeneas will surely listen, to tempt him to leave Dido and head back to Troy. This would leave Dido heart-broken, and she would surely die. 

Scene 2: A grove during the middle of a hunt

Dido and Aeneas are accompanied by their train. They stop at the grove to take in its beauty. This is all stopped when Dido hears a distant thunder, prompting Belinda to tell the servants to prepare for a return to shelter as soon as possible. As every other character leaves the stage, Aeneas is stopped by the Sorceress's elf who is disguised as Mercury. This pretend Mercury brings the command of Jove that Aeneas is to wait no longer in beginning his task of creating a new Troy on Latin soil. Aeneas consents to the wishes of what he believes are the gods, but is heart-broken that he will have to leave Dido. He then goes off-stage to prepare for his departure from Carthage. 

[source : Ballet & Opera]

Dido & Aeneas - Act III

[Image Source : Getty images open content]

The harbor at Carthage

Preparations are being made for the departure of the Trojan fleet. The sailors sing a song, which is followed shortly by the Sorceress and her companions' sudden appearance. The group is happy with how well their plan has worked, and the Sorceress sings a solo describing her further plans for the destruction of Aeneas "on the ocean". 

The palace

Dido and Belinda enter, shocked at Aeneas’ disappearance. Dido is distraught and Belinda comforts her. Suddenly Aeneas returns, but Dido is full of fear before Aeneas speaks, and his words only serve to confirm her suspicions. She derides his reasons for leaving, and even when Aeneas says he will defy the gods and not leave Carthage, Dido rejects him for having once thought of leaving her. After Dido forces Aeneas to leave, she states that "Death must come when he is gone." 

 [source : Ballet & Opera]

Opera Voices

Opera Voices 

Operatic voices can be classified by a variety of means. At base we define singers by the vocal range of their voice (basically what notes they can sing), but opera has developed a range of conventions for grouping singers with particular vocal styles as well. [source : Opera101.com]