Synposis and background of Dido and Aeneas
Dido and Aeneas is a tragic opera in three acts by Henry Purcell to a libretto by Nahum Tate, adapted from Virgil's epic poem Aeneid. The first known performance of Dido and Aeneas was at a girls' boarding school in Chelsea before December 1689.
Act 1: Dido's court
Dido has been entertaining Aeneas after his escape from the Sack of Troy. She is reluctant to express her love for Aeneas, but Belinda (her sister and confidante) and her handmaids assure her that Aeneas feels the same. When he arrives and presses his suit, Dido is reluctant at first, but gives in. Belinda and her courtiers celebrate the prospect of a royal marriage.
Act 2.i: The cave
The Sorceress and her witches (without any motive) are plotting Dido's death. She reveals her plan to conjure a storm to ruin the royal hunt and drive the royal party back to Carthage. One of her witches will then appear as a spirit to Aeneas in the form of Mercury and command him to sail away.
Act 2.ii: The grove
Dido and Aeneas are entertained after the hunt (and their first night together) by Belinda and her handmaids. One of the arias recounts the tale of Actaeon, who was killed by his own hounds- a sign of the tragedy ahead. The Sorceress' storm breaks out and everyone runs for cover, leaving Aeneas behind. The Spirit (false Mercury) descends and orders Aeneas to sail away and leave Carthage. Despite his anguish, Aeneas chooses to obey the gods, but dreads telling Dido the bad news.
Act 3.i: The ships
Aeneas’ men are preparing to set sail, having heard of his decision to leave even before Dido has been told. They sing a jolly sea shanty which outlines their intentions to "take a boozy short leave of their nymphs on the shore". The Sorceress and her witches celebrate the success of their plot.
Act 3.ii The palace
Dido and Aeneas meet for the final time. Dido is unimpressed with Aeneas' protests about his faithfulness. After he leaves Dido realises that she can live no longer and after the famous lament "When I am laid in earth", she kills herself.
Curtis Price: 'Dido and Aeneas', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 12 January 2008).