I've divided the work itself into five sections, each centered around a key situation of the work. Thus, the first section could be called "Dido's introduction".
First, let us note the cast:
Dido - Catherine Bott,
Belinda - Emma Kirkby,
Aeneas - John Mark Ainsley,
Second woman - Julianne Baird,
Sorceress - David Thomas,
Witches - Elizabeth Friday & Sara Stowe,
First sailor - Daniel Lochmann,
Spirit - Michael Chance.
1. No. 1, "Shake the cloud from off your brow", Belinda's opening arioso as she urges her mistress to adopt a more positive outlook. It's interesting that the whole piece is very sparely orchestrated with only Dido's arias given a simple ground bass line to further outline the importance of the character in the story.
2. No. 2, "Ah! Belinda", Dido's opening "cavatina" of sorts. It's surprising just how "Dido", while being an English opera, is affected by different musical styles, the present piece could have been taken from an Italian opera with its' melting melody and elegant ornamentation, though Purcell is not replicating the style, making something special. As if it wasn't enough, the use of ground bass, possibly signifying Dido's heavy thoughts, makes for a lament of unusual subtlety. The aria itself is speaking of a torment that the queen is unable to fully understand.
3. "Grief increases by concealing", recitative with Belinda first mentioning the Trojan guest, Aeneas, and the heart turmoil he seems to be causing the queen. Here we get a perfect example of Purcell's stunning recitatives: Belinda, rejoicing on the prospects of a happy union between the lovers of the title, moves from a recitation to a short arioso with a dance like motive, a move that perfectly suits the situation. Interestingly enough, "Dido" seems very much an opera about politics: for example, the section's recitatives, including the following one, actually hint a very deep problem in the lovers' relationship: Dido seems to be removing the idea of even associating with the Trojan hero. In fact, if we consider it, Dido does not openly declare her love to Aeneas during the piece, only professing openly how much torment the hero's appearance is causing her. Her only outburst is given when she is left alone on stage, as Aeneas has left her. Thus, the simple love story is highlighted by a painfully real development of both lovers' being faced by their respective duties.
4. No. 3. "When monarchs unite, how happy their state", a chorus, one of many to come. The chorus plays a very active part in the proceeding, either repeating the already stated melody (many of Belinda's ariosos are highlighted by such continuations) or commenting on the happenings (as they do in Dido's final scene). I cannot miss the opportunity to mention just how excellent is the chorus work in Hogwood rendition, not only articulate and clear, but also dramatically alert (especially obvious in the witches' scene), truly making it a fifth member of the drama.
5. "Whence could so much virtue spring", another recitative, continuing with Dido's realization of her feelings for Aeneas. Several example of expressive word coloring are present here.
6. No. 4. "Fear no danger to ensue", a superbly English duettino for both of Dido's confidantes, highlighted by a free moving tempo.
Hope you'll enjoy :)!