Henry Purcell’s beloved baroque opera, Dido and Aeneas, will come to life at the Staller Center this Friday, February 22. Stony Brook Opera and Baroque Chamber Players will present the tragic tale of duty, passion, and doomed love in the Recital Hall at 8:00 pm.
One of the first operas written in English and considered one of the greatest musical tragedies, the story of Dido and Aeneas is drawn from Virgil’s Aeneid. In Purcell’s opera, betrothed lovers, Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, Prince of Troy, are torn apart by the Sorcerer’s wicked scheme. The performance culminates with Dido’s heart-wrenching lament, “When I Am Laid in Earth.”
Stage Director and noted soprano Brenda Harris says that while Stony Brook’s performance will not be fully staged, the production uniquely showcases both the orchestra and actors. Both will share the Recital Hall stage. And of course, she adds, “the music is gorgeous.”
Legendary mezzo Jessye Norman sings “When I Am Laid in Earth”
To do justice to Purcell’s outstanding score Stony Brook has assembled a stellar cast. Mezzo-soprano Natasha Nelson, a second-year doctoral student studying under Harris, takes on the title role as Queen Dido. Thomas Killourhy will star as Aeneas, and Morgan Manifacier will play the Sorcerer. Both are tenors also working towards their doctorates with Stony Brook’s internationally respected music department. The acclaimed Daniel Beckwith conducts.
Audiences will enjoy the production’s variety. Purcell entertains by pairing choruses with the soloists and contrasting jolly sea shanties with the Sorcerer’s eerie plotting. The opera itself will be preceded by two orchestral works, John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (c. 1683) and Matthew Locke’s The Tempest (c. 1667), giving listeners a taste of Henry Purcell’s direct influences.
In fact, Purcell modeled Dido and Aeneas, his first and only true opera, on Blow’s Venus and Adonis. And although it is believed that one of the earliest performances of Dido took place at a girls’ boarding school in London in 1689, much else about the original work is shrouded in mystery. There is speculation the story may have been intended as an allegory for England’s political upheavals in the 1680s. Harris says her take on the opera is “a little more modern.”
“I believe this story exemplifies that we are most vulnerable to evil forces at our weakest points,” she says.
A free pre-opera lecture is included. DMA candidate Kevin Devine will discuss the opera at 7:00 pm in the Recital Hall. In “Dido and Aeneas: Solid Grounds,” Devine will introduce the splendid bass-lines that undergird the most powerful numbers in Purcell’s enduring work.
Purchase tickets here or at the Staller Center box office.