THE last of the Bridgewater Hall’s international concert series for 2014-15 is on June 7, and it’s a very British affair.
The New London Consort, one of the hall’s group of ‘associate artists’, are presenting a double bill – Venus And Adonis by John Blow (written around 1682), and Dido And Aeneas by Henry Purcell (written around 1684).
Venus And Adonis is often considered the first English opera, though the term didn’t exist then – it was called a ‘masque for the entertainment of the king’ (Charles II). Actress and discarded royal mistress Moll Davis took the role of Venus, while her daughter by the king, Lady Mary Tudor, played Cupid.
The book is thought to have been written by a maid of honour to the Duchess of York. It’s the traditional story (Venus loves Adonis, he gets killed by a wild boar), but ends with Venus in despair, as she sent her lover to his death by insisting he go hunting.
Dido And Aeneas, by Purcell – the greatest English composer of the late 17th century – is now thought to have been written soon afterwards and also performed for Charles II. Its words are by Nahum Tate, the man who wrote While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night.
It requires the same singers as Blow’s masque, and is also based on classical mythology … Virgil’s story of Dido, the queen of Carthage, who fell in love with Aeneas but had to say farewell forever when the gods called him to leave. Her ‘lament’, with its cry of “Remember me!”, is one of music’s most haunting melodies.
New London Consort have presented Dido And Aeneas in the past (at the Buxton Festival and internationally) in an extended form based on later performances in the London theatre.
But this time, says Anais Smart of the New London Consort: “We will be performing the normal length version of Dido And Aeneas – around 50 minutes – but with the same instrumentation as would have been at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre around 1700, with serpent, trumpets, kettledrums, etc, adding colour and drama to the orchestra.
“Both pieces will be presented in modern dress and in a very simple semi-staging which will enable the audience to relate to the action.
“We have a wonderful cast of soloists, with Roderick Williams (who appeared at the 2014 Last Night of the Proms) and Anna Dennis, in both Venus and Dido.”