Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carthage and 'Dido and Aeneas' by Purcell

Two different renditions of Dido's Lament, one by Dame Janet Baker and the other by Maria Ewing:

One of my favourite operas as a child, I still am moved by Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas'. Although portrayed fallaciously as a victim of her own overwhelming need to be loved, the arias given to Dido are haunting and extremely powerful. Dido in fact was a strong leader who refused to bow to 'fate' as dictated by the men in her life and set off for unknown shores to found a Nation. Nonetheless, her final aria could be that of Carthage itself.

'When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast:
Remember me, but ah, forget my fate!'

The story of Dido is told by Virgil:

This that thou seest is land, by Tyrians peopled;

Here is Agenor’s town; fierce Libyans harass our borders;

Dido is queen of the realm; she abandoned her Tyrian city

Fleeing her brother; — but long are her woes, too long their recital;

Nevertheless, in its broader lines, I will follow her story.

She was the bride of Sychaeus, a man who was counted the richest

Owner of land in Tyre, and devotedly loved by poor Dido,

Whom in her maidenly bloom, her father had pledged in betrothal:

Omens of marriage were bright; but over the Tyrian people

Reigned her own brother Pygmalion as king, — a monster of evil.

Bitter dissension arose in the home, and by avarice blinded,

Disregarding his sister’s love, and defiant of Heaven,

Even at the altar he stealthily slew unwatchful Sychaeus.

Long he concealed the deed, and, imagining many a pretext,

Basely deceived and encouraged the hope of his heart-broken sister.

But in her slumbers the spirit itself of her husband unburied

Came, and uplifting a face of strange and unnatural pallour,

Showed her the blood-stained shrine, and his breast transfixed by the dagger,

Plainly disclosing the secret disgrace of her home and her brother.

Then he adjured her to hasten her flight, and escape from the country,

Telling of treasure long hid in the earth, to aid her departure,

Gold unreckoned in weight, and silver unmeasured in value.

Dido, alarmed by the dream, made ready her flight and her comrades;

Gathered all those to her side who detested the merciless tyrant,

All who were moved by fear. Then, a vessel that chanced in the harbor

Seizing, they freighted with gold, and sordid Pygmalion’s treasure

Floated away on the sea; — and this was the deed of a woman!

Down to this place they came, where soon you will see the majestic

Walls and rising towers of the new-born city of Carthage.

Next they purchased a site, called Byrsa because of their bargain;

Only so much could be bought as their wit could surround by a bull’s hide.


Aeneid 1.335-1.368

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