Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Strain" Creeps Down The Baroque Opera Path Of Purcell

The young Abraham begs forgiveness for taking the life of his true love after he left her to seek The Master.
As previously discussed, The Strain on FX continues to include opera as part of the show's drama. Episode 12, "Last Rites," aired September 28, 2014, with the climax featuring an excerpt from Henry Purcell's only all-sung dramatic work, Dido and Aeneas. The piece "When I am laid in Earth" plays under the scene of a present, and past, beheading of loved ones fallen prey to the strain. More commonly known as "Dido's Lament," the aria truly expresses the dictionary definition of the word: "la·ment verb \lə-ˈment\: to express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something." The music begins as viewers realize that Nora (Mia Maestro) must decapitate her
Present-day Abraham bids farewell to his love.
mother Mariela (Anne Betancourt) as she has recently been turned by Gabriel (Jack Kesy) in an attack on the pawn shop. As the swell of the music increases, we travel in a flashback to 1967 as a younger Abraham (Jim Watson) is faced with having to execute his wife Miriam and their children since they too have been turned and are ready to kill him. As her lifeless body lays on the floor, Abraham takes a knife and cuts her open to remove her heart, which now resides in a jar filled with fluid in the basement of the pawn shop. As Eichorst (Richard Sammel) infiltrates the pawn shop and seeks to execute Abraham, he is forced to leave the only remaining thing in this world that he truly loves: Miriam's heart. As you read the synopsis of Purcell's opera, it is easy to see the parallels to the story line of the show: Miriam as Dido, Abraham as Aeneas, Eichorst as Spirit (née Mercury), and The Master as The Sorcerer. Even the closing lines of the opera after Dido's death include the theme of heart: "The chorus and orchestra conclude the opera by ordering the 'cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, soft and gentle as her heart. Keep here your watch, and never never never part.'" If the show wanted to get a bit creepier,  
perhaps they could have used Symphony #4 "Chiaroscuro" by Gloria Coates which samples the theme of Purcell's aria in a much darker way. Watch the full episode of The Strain by clicking here. More information about Dido and Aeneas, as well as a video performance of Jessye Norman performing "Dido's Lament," can be found after the jump. [Source]
Thomas Eichorst looks down on what has been Miriam's tomb and Abraham's safeguard.

American soprano Jessye Norman as Dido in a costume
designed by Pet Halmen for the l'Opéra de Paris
 (Photo: Zoë Dominic)
"The opening recitative secco, 'Thy hand, Belinda,' is accompanied by continuo only. Word painting is applied on the text 'darkness' and 'death' which is presented with chromaticism, symbolic of death. 'Dido's Lament' opens with a descending chromatic fourth line, the ground bass, which is repeated eleven times throughout the aria, thus structuring the piece in the form of a ciaccona. The meter is 3/2 in the key of G minor. Henry Purcell has applied word painting on the words 'laid,' which is also given a descending chromatic line portraying death and agony, and 'Remember me,' which is presented in a syllabic text setting and repeated with its last presentation leaping in register with a sudden crescendo displaying her desperate cry with urgency as she prepares for her fate: death. In one interpretation Dido's relationship with Aeneas is portrayed in this moment as an 'apocalyptic romance.' The text, and the Purcell opera are alluding to the Roman legend of the Aeneid, the story of a Trojan Warrior Aeneas, seeking Italy in order to settle there and secure his son's lineage. Aeneas is blown off course from Sicily, and lands on the shores of Northern Africa, in Carthage, a recently settled city of former Tyrians. Their queen is Dido, with whom Aeneas has a love affair, before departing for Italy and leaving Dido alone. She becomes so distraught that she orders for a large pyre to be placed, on which she plans to impale herself, and be set ablaze so that Aeneas will see from his ship. This is perhaps the most poignant part of the legend, and ends at the culmination of Book IV." [Source]

Act 1
Dido's court
The opera opens with Dido in her court with her attendants. Belinda is trying to cheer up Dido, but Dido is full of sorrow, saying 'Peace and I are strangers grown'. Belinda believes the source of this grief to be the Trojan Aeneas, and suggests that Carthage's troubles could be resolved by a marriage between the two. Dido and Belinda talk for a time—Dido fears that her love will make her a weak monarch, but Belinda and the Second Woman reassure her that "The hero loves as well." Aeneas enters the court, and is at first received coldly by Dido, but she eventually accepts his proposal of marriage.

Act 2
Scene 1: The cave of the Sorceress
The Sorceress/Sorcerer is plotting the destruction of Carthage and its queen, and summons companions to help with evil plans. The plan is to send her "trusted elf" disguised as Mercury, someone to whom Aeneas will surely listen, to tempt him to leave Dido and sail to Italy. This would leave Dido heartbroken, and she would surely die. The chorus join in with terrible laughter, and the Enchantresses decide to conjure up a storm to make Dido and her train leave the grove and return to the palace. When the spell is prepared, the witches vanish in a thunderclap.

Scene 2: A grove during the middle of a hunt
Dido and Aeneas are accompanied by their train. They stop at the grove to take in its beauty. A lot of action is going on, with attendants carrying goods from the hunt and a picnic possibly taking place, and Dido and Aeneas are together within the activity. This is all stopped when Dido hears distant thunder, prompting Belinda to tell the servants to prepare for a return to shelter as soon as possible. As every other character leaves the stage, Aeneas is stopped by the Sorceress's elf, who is disguised as Mercury. This pretend Mercury brings the command of Jove that Aeneas is to wait no longer in beginning his task of creating a new Troy on Latin soil. Aeneas consents to the wishes of what he believes are the gods, but is heart-broken that he will have to leave Dido. He then goes off-stage to prepare for his departure from Carthage. 

Act 3:
The harbour at Carthage
Preparations are being made for the departure of the Trojan fleet. The sailors sing a song, which is followed shortly by the Sorceress and her companions' sudden appearance. The group is pleased at how well their plan has worked, and the Sorceress sings a solo describing her further plans for the destruction of Aeneas "on the ocean". All the characters begin to clear the stage after a dance in three sections, and then disperse. 

The palace
Dido and Belinda enter, shocked at Aeneas’ disappearance. Dido is distraught and Belinda comforts her. Suddenly Aeneas returns, but Dido is full of fear before Aeneas speaks, and his words only serve to confirm her suspicions. She derides his reasons for leaving, and even when Aeneas says he will defy the gods and not leave Carthage, Dido rejects him for having once thought of leaving her. After Dido forces Aeneas to leave, she states that "Death must come when he is gone." The opera and Dido's life both slowly come to a conclusion, as the Queen of Carthage sings her last aria, "When I am laid in Earth", also known as "Dido's Lament." The chorus and orchestra then conclude the opera once Dido is dead by ordering the "cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, soft and gentle as her heart. Keep here your watch, and never never never part."[25] [Source

Dido and Aeneas (Z. 626) is an opera in a prologue and three acts, written by the English Baroque composer Henry Purcell with a libretto by Nahum Tate. The first known performance was at Josias Priest's girls' school in London no later than the summer of 1688. The story is based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid. It recounts the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. A monumental work in Baroque opera, Dido and Aeneas is remembered as one of Purcell's foremost theatrical works. It was also Purcell's first opera, as well as his only all-sung dramatic work. One of the earliest English operas, it owes much to John Blow's Venus and Adonis, both in structure and in overall effect. The influence of Cavalli's opera Didone is also apparent. Originally based on Nahum Tate's play Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lovers (1678), the opera is likely, at least to some extent, to be allegorical. The prologue refers to the joy of a marriage between two monarchs, which could refer to the marriage between William and Mary. In a poem of about 1686, Tate alluded to James II as Aeneas, who is misled by the evil machinations of the Sorceress and her witches (representing Roman Catholicism, a common metaphor at the time) into abandoning Dido, who symbolises the British people. The same symbolism may apply to the opera. This explains the addition of the characters of the Sorceress and the witches, which do not appear in the original Aeneid. It would be noble, or at least acceptable, for Aeneas to follow the decree of the Gods, but not so acceptable for him to be tricked by ill-meaning spirits. Although the opera is a tragedy, there are numerous seemingly lighter scenes, such as the First Sailor's song, 'Take a boozy short leave of your nymphs on the shore, and silence their mourning with vows of returning, though never intending to visit them more.' Harris considers the callousness and cynicism of the song to underline the 'moral' of the story, that young women should not succumb to the advances and promises of ardent young men."
"Der Abschied des Aeneas von Dido"

Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

"The first complete recording of the opera was made by Decca Records in 1935 with Nancy Evans as Dido and Roy Henderson as Aeneas,[26] followed in 1945 by HMV's release with Joan Hammond and Dennis Noble. Kirsten Flagstad, who had sung the role at the Mermaid Theatre in London, recorded it in 1951 for EMI with Thomas Hemsley as Aeneas. Dido and Aeneas has been recorded many times since the 1960s with Dido sung by mezzo-sopranos such as Janet Baker (1961), Victoria de los Ángeles (1965), Tatiana Troyanos (1968), Teresa Berganza (1986), Anne Sofie von Otter (1989) and Susan Graham (2003). In addition to Joan Hammond and Kirsten Flagstad, sopranos who have recorded the role include Emma Kirkby (1981), Jessye Norman (1986), Catherine Bott (1992), Emily Van Evera (1994), Lynne Dawson (1998) and Evelyn Tubb (2004)."

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