Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626, Act III, “When I am laid in earth” (Dido’s Lament)

No one knows for sure when the English composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695) wrote his three-act Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas, though it is believed to have been completed sometime between 1683 and 1688. 

The work is one of Purcell’s best remembered theatrical compositions and his only true opera. He based the music on the play Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lovers (1678), a tragedy by the Irish poet, lyricist and hymnist Nahum Tate (1652-1715).

“When I am laid in earth,” commonly known as “Dido’s Lament,” is the most famous aria in the play and comes near the end of Act III after Dido and Aeneas part ways forever.

Originally scored for four-part strings and continuo, French conductor, composer, arranger and violist Mathieu Herzog arranged the aria for cello and strings, as he did with Christoph Willibald Gluck’s (1714-1787) “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (posted to the blog on June 28, 2020). Franco-Belgian cellist Camille Thomas plays both pieces on her 2020 album, Voice of Hope.

In the official video for her performance with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas plays in a gallery in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. I have a strong recollection of that place; I toured a small portion of it with my parents in the summer of 1973, and my sweety and I walked outside along the length of the massive building in October 2012. (We instead toured the smaller and more manageable but awe-inspiring Musée d’Orsay, where we delighted in works by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh [1853-1890].)

“When I am laid in earth” is an emotive, tragic piece of music, its solemnity brought out beautifully by Thomas’s cello playing. I found this performance several weeks ago and noticed it today in my bookmarked videos.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today, for Classical Sunday. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the video from the official Deutsche Grammophon YouTube channel:  

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