I was like most kids growing up, laughing at things I didn’t understand or couldn’t appreciate. Opera was one of those things. Show of hands if your thoughts on opera, as a kid or currently, revolved around a heavy set woman with a large bosom belting into a stiff audience of snobs in tuxedos and evening dresses? Maybe someone’s champagne glass shattered?
Opera, to me, was nothing more than a joke.
It’s a genre I only began to appreciate in college when, in a music history course, I was introduced to “When I am laid in earth,” also known as Dido’s Lament, the aria from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Had you the fortune of pulling up next to me at a red light around that time, you’d undoubtedly have heard my attempts to sing it passion level on HIGH. I loved the emotion in her voice and the power of her delivery, but what made this song even better for me was that the lyrics were in English. I could actually learn the words and sing along, which as we all know, makes any singing more enjoyable.
Every singer has their particular way of singing this aria, so I scoured through YouTube for a version I really like, and here it is.
So what’s all this lamenting about anyway? I’ll share two versions with you. First,
The Simple Version:
The text, and the Purcell opera, allude to the Aeneid, the Roman legend of the Trojan warrior Aeneas, travelling to Italy from the betrayed and fallen Troy in order to settle there and secure his son Ascanius‘s lineage. Their ship is blown off course from Sicily, and they land on the shore of North Africa, in Carthage, a town newly settled by refugees from Tyre. Aeneas falls in love with their queen, Dido, but dutifully departs for Italy leaving her. Distraught at his betrayal, she orders a pyre to be built and set ablaze so that Aeneas will see from his ship that she has killed herself. She sings the lament before stabbing herself as Aeneas sails on.wikipedia
The Juicy Details Version:
This opera alludes to the Roman legend of the Aeneid. It tells the story of the Trojan warrior Aeneas who’s ship is blown off course on his way to Italy. He lands instead in Carthage where he meets Queen Dido and falls in love. Dido is skeptical, to say the least. She fights through her doubts, puts her trust issues aside, and gives in to the once loathsome idea of marriage. The woman puts her heart on the line.
With all of this power and love going around, it’s no surprise that haters gonna hate. These haters can’t stand to see her powerful and in love— so they conspire to dethrone Dido by hitting her where it’d hurt the most– her heart. Through mystical means, they have some fraud impersonate the god Mercury, someone Aeneas would have really respected, and this fraud tells Aeneas that he’s urgently needed elsewhere. Newly married and truly in love, Aeneas is heartbroken, but he feels duty bound to leave his new wife. What’s he gonna do? Defy the gods?
Aeneas tells her he has to leave. It doesn’t go well. Dido’s super pissed. She can’t believe he’d entertain the idea of leaving her for anybody, the gods included. He’s repentant. He begs forgiveness, says he’ll disobey the gods, stay by her side forever. Too late. Hell hath no fury, and all that jazz. She can’t stand to look at his pathetic face and she practically tells him so. She drives him away feeling that his love was never as strong as he’d professed.
By the time she comes around to feeling bad about driving him away, he’s dejectedly gathered his men and hit the seas.
The rest is up in smoke.
What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of opera? Has this post helped you discover something new?
I’d love to hear from you!