Henry Purcellâ€™s â€œDido and Aeneasâ€ is considered to be the greatest operatic achievement of 17th century England and arguably the first great English opera . Unlike other pieces of Purcellâ€™s theatrical output, Dido and Aeneas is an anomaly as it is sung throughout. Multiple sources note that the opera is loosely modeled after the stylistic traits of Purcellâ€™s predecessor in English 17th century music, John Blow. Although the first performance of the work was said to be in the year 1689, no original score from the 17th century remains .
The first documented performance of â€œDido and Aeneasâ€ was run by Mr Josias Priest at a girlâ€™s school in Chelsea, London. It is assumed that male chorus parts were added at a later date. In addition, females played the ...view middle of the document...
Lasting only an hour long, the operaâ€™s six scenes are very concise with a different setting and emotion for each respective event. Beginning in Didoâ€™s palace, the music expresses Didoâ€™s pain and anguish in the key of C minor. This anguish transitions to joy at Aeneasâ€™ renunciation of his destiny. Consequently, the music transitions from the key of C minor, to C major. The shift from tonic minor to tonic major is a particularly effective compositional technique in showing mood variance. The witches scene changes the key from C major to F major. As a result, the malicious and destructive intent is portrayed. As the conflicts ensue and the plot is developed, the keys switch back and forth once again in the Hunt and Harbour scenes before arriving in the key of G minor for the final scene.
In total, the opera consists of about forty musical parts. The majority of changes exist between choruses and recitatives; however, there are a couple notable arias including the most famous â€œDidoâ€™s lament.â€ Unlike in the later operas style, Purcell uses an equal balance between duets and solo singing. Bel canto arias were not in fashion at the early date of this work and therefore the plot was portrayed in a more straightforward fashion with less emphasis on virtuoso singing. Additionally, Purcell provides dance music for the Furies, the Sailors, and the Witches .
French opera of the 17th century often included ballet music; however dance was a rarity in England. Henry Purcell broke this trend by adding multiple dances, some of which are assumed to be lost. One possible explanation for this variation is because it was written for dance master, Josiah Priest, to be performed at his school for girls. The music for these dances were usually modeled after choral music but could also be an entirely separate movement .