Opera Scotland

Indian Queen

Music
Henry Purcell (born London, 1659; died London, 21 November 1695)

Text
Thomas Betterton, completed anonymously.

Source
Tragedy (1664) by John Dryden (1631-1700) & Sir Robert Howard (Dryden’s brother-in-law).

Premières
First performance: London (Dorset Garden Theatre), 29 April 1696 (perhaps earlier).
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Citizens Theatre), August 1994.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
The Indian Queen, like most of the stage works in which Purcell was involved (the notable exception being Dido and Aeneas), was a semi-opera – a spoken drama interspersed with substantial musical sequences often performed by different characters. This was Purcell’s last work of the type, and it was done in collaboration with, and completed by, his younger brother Daniel (1663-1717).

Main Characters
Indian Boy (tenor)
Quivera, an Indian girl (soprano)
Ismeron, a conjuror (bass)
Zempoalla, Mexican Queen (soprano)
Orazia, the Inca’s princess (soprano)
High Priest (bass)
Fame (tenor)
Envy (bass)

Plot Summary
The matter of the drama, completely fictitious, concerns a war (before the arrival of the Conquistadors) between the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. For the sake of the drama these widely separated nations are relocated to become adjacent territories, and Montezuma is a Peruvian rather than Aztec.

Zempoalla has seized the throne of Mexico, but is opposed by the Inca of Peru. Montezuma, a Peruvian general, changes sides, and becomes the object of Zempoalla’s love, but the queen is eventually driven to suicide.

Several masque scenes interrupt the action, with excellent music. The scene for Fame and Envy begins with a well-known chorus “I come to sing great Zempoalla’s story”, followed by Envy’s onomatopoeic song “What flatt’ring noise is this, at which my snakes all hiss?” Ismeron’s cavern song “Ye twice ten hundred deities” has also survived outside its theatrical context. Perhaps the most famous item is the song “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly”.

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