Purcell, Henry: Dido and Aeneas
A major publishing event in British music, the Purcell Society’s new edition of Dido and Aeneas radically reappraises an undisputed national treasure, and supersedes the Society’s previous redaction of the work, issued more than forty years ago. The new edition takes full account of manuscripts previously dismissed, overlooked or, in one instance, only recently discovered, together with all the sources drawn upon in its predecessor – among them the word-book printed for the performance given in the late 1680s at Josias Priest’s Chelsea boarding-school for girls. Reflecting four decades of evolving Purcell studies, it firmly rejects the time-honoured assumption that the opera was actually composed for the school, instead tracing its provenance, earlier in the 1680s, to the sophisticated court circle of Charles II.
There are significant casting implications. These affect in particular the crucial role of the Sorceress, which both external and internal evidence clearly indicates was conceived, in conformity with the theatrical convention of the period, for a bass singer – though all the Sorceress’s music is presented here in parallel text, allowing for the use of either voice in performance. In the version for bass, the string accompaniments differ substantially from those in older editions. These matters, the historical background and textual minutiae are dealt with fully in the preface and commentary to the full score.
The critical edition is accompanied by a new vocal score of the opera, designed for ease of use, with a practical piano part for rehearsal and performance, and fully complementary to the main volume. All performing material for the work is freshly originated to the highest standards, in a publication that will remain the benchmark for staged or concert performances of Dido and Aeneas in either version for many years to come.
In May 2021, staff and students of the Royal Academy of Music gave the world premiere performances of the new Purcell Society edition of Dido and Aeneas, in collaboration with the Purcell Society and Stainer & Bell. Videos of these performances are freely available on the Royal Academy of Music website:
Performance from 28 May 2021, in which the role of the Sorceress was taken by a bass
Performance from 27 May 2021, in which the Sorceress was played by a mezzo-soprano