Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas
Purcell's Dido and Aeneas stands as the greatest operatic achievement of seventeenth-century England, and yet, despite its global renown, it remains cloaked in mystery. The date and place of its first performance cannot be fixed with precision, and the absolute accuracy of the surviving scores, which date from almost 100 years after the work was written, cannot be assumed.
In this thirtieth-anniversary new edition of her book, Ellen Harris closely examines the many theories that have been proposed for the opera's origin and chronology, considering the opera both as political allegory and as a positive exemplar for young women. Her study explores the work's historical position in the Restoration theater, revealing its roots in seventeenth-century English theatrical and musical traditions, and carefully evaluates the surviving sources for the various readings they offer-of line designations in the text (who sings what), the vocal ranges of the soloists, the use of dance and chorus, and overall layout. It goes on to provide substantive analysis of Purcell's musical declamation and use of ground bass.
In tracing the performance history of Dido and Aeneas, Harris presents an in-depth examination of the adaptations made by the Academy of Ancient Music at the end of the eighteenth century based on the surviving manuscripts. She then follows the growing interest in the creation of an "authentic" version in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through published editions and performance reviews, and considers the opera as an important factor in the so-called English Musical Renaissance.
To a significant degree, the continuing fascination with Purcell's Dido and Aeneas rests on its apparent mutability, and Harris shows this has been inherent in the opera effectively from its origin.
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