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In Part 3 of our guide to female opera characters, we’re looking into the life of famous queen Dido…and tonight at the Royal Festival Hall, Anna Caterina Antonacci will be portraying the lady herself in an aria from Berlioz’s grand opera Les Troyens.
Who was she?
Dido was founder and queen of Carthage. She fled her home of Tyre when her brother murdered her husband and she settled with her followers in North Africa.
The new city of Carthage was flourishing when the Trojan hero Aeneas arrived on his way to Italy to found what would eventually be Rome. However, when he stopped in Carthage the goddess Venus made Dido fall in love with him and for a while Aeneas postponed his quest. When he eventually left, Dido was heartbroken and committed suicide, cursing Aeneas and his descendants. Aeneas later met Dido in the underworld but she refused to forgive him even in death.
What was she famous for?
Dido is most famous for the Roman poet Virgil’s account of her romance Aeneas in The Aeneid. The story of their doomed romance was used by Christopher Marlowe, Henry Purcell and Sasha Waltz.
Dido has a popstar, a computer game character, a mathematical problem and an asteroid named after her.
Was she a queen, heroine or ladykiller?
Dido was a queen first and foremost. Before Aeneas arrived on the scene, she was an accomplished leader known for her wisdom. When she originally asked for land to build Carthage she was told she could have only the amount of land an ox hide could cover – to get round this she had the hide cut into one long strip which meant she had enough land to build a whole city!
Who will be singing Dido and when?
Sarah Connolly will be singing When I am laid in earth from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in French Exchange on Thursday 8 November 2012.