Purcell and Mozart opera double bill — 2 and 4 September 2010

Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell

Cast and credits

Composed by:Henry Purcell, c.1689
Libretto:Nahum Tate c.1689

Dido:Tanuja Doss
Aeneas:Max Spencer
Belinda:Katie Cole
First Witch:Leith Dudfield
Sailor:Kenneth Smith
Second Witch:Judith Swanson
Second Woman:Madeleine Rowland
Sorceress:Leila Fetter
Spirit:Rachel Parsons
Sopranos:Linda Anchell, Janene Broere, Lorna Gamble, Cath Lawrence
Altos:Catriona Bryce, Mary Bush, Patricia Whitbread
Tenors:Gerard Clifton, Terry Johnson
Basses:Gerard Atkinson, Alexander Maroya, Alexander O'Sullivan

Directors:Colin Forbes and Patricia Whitbread
Conductor:Matthew Stuckings
Keyboard:Colin Forbes
Stage & Production Manager:Leighton Mann, assisted by Adam Krusec

The opera

Dido and Aeneas is one of the earliest English operas and Purcell's only all-sung opera.

Based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid, the opera recounts the love story of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair at his abandonment of her. The opera also owes much to John Blow's opera Venus and Adonis, both in structure and overall effect.

A version exists of the text that may be from the first performance, but the earliest existing musical score is a 1750 copy; the music to the prologue and some other parts of the opera are lost.

Before Dido and Aeneas, Purcell had composed music for several stage works including for two plays by Nahum Tate. Originally based on Tate's play Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lovers (1678), the opera may have been an allegory of the marriage of William and Mary. Also possible is that Aeneas represents James II, supposedly misled by the evils of Roman Catholicism into abandoning the British people. This would explain the addition of the Sorceress and the witches to deceive Aeneas, as they are not in Aeneid.

Although the opera is a tragedy, there are lighter scenes, such as the Sailor's song, which nevertheless has cynical undertones. A famed aria is the much performed and recorded "When I am laid in earth", known as "Dido's lament".

The first known performance of Dido and Aeneas was at Josias Priest's girls' school in Chelsea no later than 1688, although it may have been performed earlier in the royal court. The opera was not staged again in Purcell's lifetime. There were only sporadic concert performances until 1895, when it was staged at the Royal College of Music to mark the bicentenary of Purcell's death. With new critical editions of the score and revived interest in Baroque music, the number of productions by leading opera houses steadily increased, especially in 2009, the 350th anniversary of Purcell's birth. Numerous dance versions have been performed, in various styles.

The Story

Act 1, Dido's court: Dido is in her court with her attendants. She is full of sorrow. Belinda tries to cheer her, believing Dido's grief to be because of Aeneas, the Trojan Prince. Belinda suggests that Carthage's troubles could be solved by a marriage between the two. Dido fears that her love will make her a weak monarch, but Belinda and the Second Woman reassure her. Aeneas arrives. At first Dido receives him coldly, but eventually accepts his marriage proposal.

Act 2, Scene 1—The cave of the Sorceress: The Sorceress plots destruction of Carthage and its queen, calling her companions to help her evil plans. She plots to send her "trusted elf" disguised as Mercury, to tempt Aeneas to desert Dido and sail to Italy. Heartbroken, Dido would surely die. The chorus join in with terrible laughter, and the Enchantresses conjure up a storm to make Dido and her companions leave the grove and return to the palace. The spell prepared, the witches vanish in a thunderclap.

Scene 2—A grove during the middle of a hunt: Dido and Aeneas stop at the grove to take in its beauty, their attendants busy around them. Dido hears distant thunder, and Belinda tells the servants to prepare for a return to shelter. As they leave, Aeneas is stopped by the Sorceress's elf, disguised as Mercury, bringing the supposed command of Jove that Aeneas must leave at once to found a new Troy in Italy. Aeneas consents, but is heart-broken at leaving Dido.

Act 3, Scene 1—The harbour at Carthage: The sailors sing as they prepare the Trojan fleet's departure. The Sorceress and her companions suddenly appear, pleased at how well their plan has worked. She boasts her plans to destroy Aeneas on the ocean.

Scene 2—The palace at Carthage: Dido is distraught at Aeneas's disappearance and Belinda comforts her. Aeneas unexpectedly arrives at the palace, yet Dido is afraid. She derides his reasons for leaving. Even when Aeneas says he will defy the 'gods' and not leave Carthage, she rejects him for having once thought of leaving her. Dido then forces Aeneas to go. She says that now death must come, as he is gone. Dido's life and the opera slowly end as she sings her lament. The chorus orders the cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, keep watch and never part.

The performers

Katie Cole (Belinda)

Katie has long been active in Canberra's music scene as a singer and performer in musical theatre. For CAMRA, she has been a soloist in Handel's Messiah and was Fiordiligi in Così fan Tutti. Katie gave a solo recital in CAMRA's 2010 Month of Sundays series. In 2002 she was nominated for a CAT award for her role in Supa productions' Barnum.

Tanuja Doss (Dido)

A student of voice since she was fourteen, Tanuja studied with Jean Schofield and Patricia Whitbread, completing her AMusA in 2003. Tanuja's performances for CAMRA have readfiled the Countess Rosina Almaviva in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Victory in Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum and as soloist in Handel's Messiah and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. Tanuja was also a soloist in the Llewellyn Choir's performance of Britten's Rejoice in the lamb and Rutter's Requiem. In 2006, she performed Britten's song-cycle On this Island at Art Song Canberra's 'Four Canberra Singers' recital.

Leith Dudfield (First Witch)

Leith sang in choirs and performed in shows from the age of nine until her early 20s, when she disappeared backstage for a number of years. She assisted backstage with CAMRA's Iolanthe (2000), Patience (2001) and The Mikado (2002) before returning to the stage five months pregnant in The Beggar's Opera (2003). After a break to have children, she again returned as the 'Fear of God' in Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Virtutum (2008). Leith has been studying singing with Patricia Whitbread since 2008.

Leila Fetter (Sorceress)

Leila has studied singing with Patricia Whitbread since 1996 and is a frequent member of CAMRA productions, including in Iolanthe (2000), Patience (2001) and The Mikado (2002) and as Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro (2007). In 2005 Leila was soloist in Canberra Repertory's 'Old Time Music Hall'. She has also performed in Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb with the Llewellyn Choir, and in 2007 was a soloist in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and in Haydn's 'Nelson' Mass for the Llewellyn Choir and Haydn Bande.

Colin Forbes (Co-director and Producer, Keyboard)

A graduate of Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Colin was Lecturer in Piano at the Conservatorium as well as pianist and percussionist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He later joined the Australian Opera as a repetiteur and has worked with other leading concert organisations. Colin studied piano with Paul Badura-Skoda at the Essen Hochschule and taught and performed in Germany. He was then Head of Keyboard at Ascham School and, from 1992, repetiteur at the Canberra School of Music. In 1997 he helped establish CAMRA, where he is Artistic Director and principal piano teacher. Colin has given many concerts in Canberra as soloist and accompanist. Under CAMRA's auspices, Colin has prepared productions of several Gilbert and Sullivan operas, The Beggar's Opera, Ordo Virtutum by Hildegard von Bingen, and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, as well as numerous orchestral masses, Handel's Messiah and Bach's St John Passion.

Rachel Parsons (Spirit)

Rachel started singing lessons with Patricia Whitbread in 2005 and has sung in a number of CAMRA productions. Highlights readfile the role of Faith in Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum and chorus member in productions of Handel's Messiah and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Rachel also sang in the chorus with the Melbourne Opera's touring production of Puccini's La Bohème.

Madeleine Rowland (Second Woman)

Madeleine has been studying singing with Patricia Whitbread for over ten years. Her love of singing has led her to perform in choirs, musicals, operettas, operas and oratorios. Madeleine has appeared in shows as a secretary, a little maid from school, a mother, a villager, a lady, a tart, a nun and most recently as Pavarotti in CAMRA's Crossover concert. In her spare time Madeleine teaches singing; her students are a welcome distraction from her law degree.

Kenneth Smith (Sailor)

Ken came late to singing lessons and with a lot of help from Andrea Orwin and Colin Forbes he is making up for lost time. He has sung with the chorus for Melbourne Opera, CAMRA and Queanbeyan Players and presented a program as part of CAMRA's Month of Sundays series. This is his first principal role and he is relishing the opportunity to play a weather-beaten sailor, despite getting very seasick whenever he's in a boat!

Max Spencer (Aeneas)

Max Spencer began studying singing with David Reedy in 2004. He also receives vocal coaching from Colin Forbes. Max sang in recitals for Art Song Canberra in 2009. For CAMRA, he has sung in Handel's Messiah. Max was also one of the soloists in CAMRA's 2010 Month of Sundays series.
Matthew Stuckings (Conductor)

Matthew formed Canberra chamber choir Igitur Nos in 2003 out of a desire to explore the sacred choral repertoire more deeply, and has developed the choir into one of Canberra's finest. Since 2005, Matthew has been the director of music at All Saints' Anglican Church, Ainslie. He has directed many community choruses, including the Capital Hill Singers at Parliament House and Fiscal Harmony, and has been the chorus master of the ANU Choral Society (SCUNA) since 2002. Matthew is a graduate in arts and science, and is currently studying theology.

Judith Swanson (Second Witch)

At first Judith focussed on sacred music as a church choir member and as a soloist. After raising a family, Judith is now broadening her interests to readfile opera, oratorio, lieder and art song. She has performed in productions including Irene, The Grand Duke and Messiah, appeared as soloist with a number of community choirs and was highly commended in the 2008 National Eisteddfod. Judith appeared in Melbourne Opera's Canberra performances of Puccini's La Bohème and performed for Art Song Canberra in 2009. She is studying the Bel Canto method with David Reedy, and also works regularly with Colin Forbes.

Patricia Whitbread (Co-Director and Producer)

Patricia was a student of Alice Mallon-Muir in Perth from the age of nineteen. Successful in many competitions, Patricia performed principal roles with the Western Australian Opera Company and Victorian State Opera. She was a trainee principal with Opera Australia in 1975 and 1976, and studied in Germany with an Opera Foundation Scholarship in 1977. From 1978-1980, she was a principal singer with Opera Australia, and returned to Germany to perform and teach from 1980 to 1984. Patricia has since taught and performed extensively in Sydney and Canberra and has been President of the ACT Chapter of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing. Her wealth of vocal and stage experience is seen in many of CAMRA's productions.