Venus and Adonis (opera)

Venus and Adonis (opera)

"Venus and Adonis" is an opera in three acts and a prologue by the English Baroque composer John Blow, composed in about 1683. It was written for the court of King Charles II at either London or Windsor. It is considered by some to be either a semi-opera or a masque , but "The New Grove" names it as the earliest surviving English opera. The author of the libretto is unknown, but is surmised to have been by Aphra Behn due to the feminist nature of the text, and that she later worked with Blow on the play "The Lucky Chance".Price, "Grove Dictionary", op. cit. The story is based on the Classical myth of Venus and Adonis, which was also the basis for Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis, as well as Ovid's poem of the same name in his Metamorphoses.


* Cupidsoprano
* Venus – soprano
* Adonisbaritone
* Shepherd – contralto or countertenor
* Shepherdess – soprano
* Huntsman – contralto or countertenor
* Chorus, acting variously as Cupids, shepherds and shepherdesses, huntsmen, and courtiers.


"Venus and Adonis" is considered by some to be either a semi-opera or a masque,Cite web
author = Hugill, Robert
date = 2004-05-02
title = "Venus and Adonis"
work = Music & Vision
publisher =
pages = p. 3
url =
archiveurl =
archivedate = 2005-02-17
quote = Parallel to the development of public theatre, the tradition of the private Masque continued. In 1682 Blow wrote "Venus and Adonis" which is entitled 'A Masque for the Entertainment of the King'. [...] This genre of play with extensive musical scenes developed into a particular genre at the Dorset Gardens theatre. Commonly referred to just as opera, it was more accurately dubbed 'semi-opera' by Roger North.
but "The New Grove" names it as the earliest surviving English opera. In fact, an early manuscript source is subtitled "A masque for the entertainment of the king".

In overall form the opera owes much to French operas of the period, especially those of Jean-Baptiste Lully. The French elements in the opera are the French overture, the Prologue which refers in scarcely veiled terms to the court for which it was written, and also includes many dances popular at the time. The piece is a clear model for Henry Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas", both in structure and the use of the chorus. The piece is remarkable for the period because of its through-composed nature; there are no clear arias or set-pieces, but the music continues throughout the piece, using recitative to further the plot.


The traditional myth of Venus and Adonis runs as follows:

Venus is with her son Cupid, and he accidentally pierces her with one of his arrows. The next person Venus sees is the handsome youth Adonis, with whom she immediately falls in love. He is a hunter, and she decides that in order to be with him, she will take on the form of the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. Eventually she warns Adonis of the danger of hunting the wild boar, but he does not heed the warning, and is gored to death by the boar.

In Blow's version, Venus encourages Adonis to go hunting, despite his protestations:

: "Adonis"::: Adonis will not hunt today::: I have already caught the noblest prey.: "Venus"::: No, my shepherd haste away::: Absence kindles new desire,:: I would not have my lover tire.

This parallels the scene in Purcell's later "Dido and Aeneas" (1689), when Dido rebuffs Aeneas' offer to stay with her. In addition to this major divergence from the myth in Adonis' motivation, Blow's version also includes the addition of a number of comic scenes with Cupid, including the spelling lesson he gives to the young cupids and his opinion that almost no one in the court is faithful—the latter an especially pungent critique given that it is believed that Cupid was played by Lady Mary Tudor, then around 10 years old and Charles II's illegitimate daughter, and Venus by Mary (Moll) Davies, the king's former mistress.


* "John Blow:Venus and Adonis" (recorded 1987), directed by Charles Medlam, on Harmonia Mundi (1901276), with Nancy Argenta (Venus), Lynne Dawson (cupid), Stephen Varcoe (Adonis), and London Baroque.
* "Venus and Adonis" (recorded 1999), directed by René Jacobs, on Harmonia Mundi (901684), with María Cristina Kiehr (Venus), Robin Blaze (Cupid), John Bowen, Jonathan Brown, Gerald Finley, Christopher Josey, Rosemary Joshua, and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.


; Sources consulted

* Cite web
author = Price, Curtis
date = 2005 online
title = "Venus and Adonis (i)"
format = subscription access
work = Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
publisher = Grove Music Online
url =
accessdate = 2005-01-15

; Endnotes

ee also

* John Blow
* Dido and Aeneas

External links

* [ Libretto of "Venus and Adonis"] at

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