Dido and Æneas, Purcell's best loved and most frequently performed work today, is also England's oldest full opera. Many details of its history are unknown, and it went unstaged for two centuries before an 1895 production restored its renown. Choreographer and stage director Wayne McGregor, “the closest thing to a rock star that ballet can currently claim” (The New York Times), breathes new life into the poignant story—based on Virgil's Æneid—with heavily atmospheric lighting, shrewd design choices, and modern ballet flourishes.
Dido, Queen of Carthage, is in love with warrior Æneas, who has sought refuge at her court following the burning of Troy at the end of the Trojan War. When Æneas arrives and expresses his love for Dido, the queen gives in and admits that she loves him as well. The wicked Sorceress, however, has plans to destroy their burgeoning love, sending a minion disguised as Mercury to convince Æneas to abandon the queen. Torn between love and duty, he announces to Dido that he must leave her. Desolate at his departure, she prepares for her own death, begging her sister Belinda to “remember me, but forget my fate.” Her plaintive swan song, “When I am laid in earth”—famously known as “Dido’s Lament”—is an absolute showstopper, one of the most heartrending arias in opera.
Photo: Bill Cooper