Analysis Of Henry Purcell’s King Arthur Opera

Table of Contents

Act One begins with the introduction of the characters and setting.

Act 2 begins with a different setting and characters than Act 1.

Act Three


Playing songs

Following Purcell’s time, music began to move in a different direction. New styles and techniques were developed, and the sound of the music changed dramatically.

This essay will explore King Arthur, the semi-opera I created. I plan to explore its successes, controversial aspects, as well as the writers, composers, as well their highly refined work. King Arthur, a semi-opera, is based on John Dryden’s libretto from 1684. Purcell wrote the music. Dryden nearly abandoned the libretto in protest of King Charles II’s patriotism and biases to him, but he did not abandon it. The Opera premiered at London’s Dorset Garden Theatre on June 16, 1991. The audience was extremely pleased with the opera. E.J. Dent (Music writer) described it as “a very skillful piece of writing” and described its spoken dialogue and music as being “generally balanced”. The strong British patriotism of the work made it popular. This was the first opera of its type, as operas had not had the chance to grow since 1642 when Cromwell ordered theatres to be closed. This strange combination of music and libretto would have really surprised those who were there, especially considering that operas and other theatrical productions hadn’t been revived since Cromwell.

Henry Purcell was the son of a baroque composer from England, and was born in 1659. He was able to create beautiful music for incidental dialogue that matched the spoken dialog perfectly. This is partly due to his ability to mix theatre, literature, music together. Purcell’s fame stemmed in part from his role as Westminster Abbey’s organist. He was therefore a royal servant and was considered a member the upper social classes. He composed music music and music for numerous occasions including the coronation, funeral, and coronation ceremonies of James II. John Dryden, England’s first poet-laureate, was born on 1631. Dryden is said to have been so influential that his time in England was known as “The Age of Dryden”. Dryden was a well-respected classical writer. Dryden was a highly respected classical writer. He wrote “Astraea Redux”, which was dedicated to King Charles II’s coronation, in 1660. He was a multi-talented artist. His works included opera, music theatre, poetry, and even some spiritual meanings. Most popular is probably political. Arthur was viewed as a “source for national pride.” Dryden was maybe reminding the audience of Arthur’s struggle to eliminate foreign invaders. Also, a “foreign monarch” had just returned on the throne in recent times. He wanted an English heir to power. Dryden opposed William and Mary’s coronation as Protestants. This was another patriotic reason why this semi-opera was born. They were not suitable to lead Britain, he believed. Dryden was removed from his position as poet-laureate by opposition to the monarchy. He voiced his opinions through King Arthur. The opera’s main characters are King Arthur and Conon, the duke and princess of Cornwall. Emmeline is his daughter. Merlin is an enchanter. Aurelius, Arthur’s friend, is Albanact his guardian. Oswald is the Saxon king, Guillamar his friend, and Osmond: a magician. Many smaller roles exist, including shepherds, sirens, and nymphs.

ACT IThis shows King Arthur winning the battle against the Saxon invaders. The first act portrays Oswald, the Saxon leader (along with the army led by King Arthur) fighting the last battle. It also shows their respective camps that night. The addition of Emmeline, a blind woman who art King Arthur after Oswald rejected his marriage proposal, makes the act even more spectacular. The song’s chorus is heard by the Saxons.

ACT III. Emmeline, who is being attacked by Oswald, kidnaps her and takes her back to his castle. Arthur discovers the truth and decides he must rescue her. Arthur’s attempts to rescue Emmeline are thwarted by Oswald’s forest wizardry.

ACT III. During this act the Britons feel so scared by Oswald’s strong enchantments in the forest. He succeeds and uses a potion that will cure her blindness.

ACTS IV – Merlin dispels Osmond’s enchantments and allows Arthur to enter. Two sirens from deep intoxicated wood lure Arthur into the water. Arthur soon realizes that the spell is a lie and breaks it. The broken spell frees the Britons from the spell and they march to the Saxon fortress. Oswald then confronts them. Arthur wins the one-on-1 fight that Oswald offers. The war is won by Britain.

MusicThe music for King Arthur was described by Purcell to be “one Purcell’s most complex, successful, and best-known dramatic compositions.” There are many pieces that will always be in great esteem. The frost scene’s most memorable piece, ‘Come If You Dare’, is perhaps the most famous work of music from King Arthur. Purcell had some difficulties when writing opera music. Dryden’s writing was criticized for being “clogged up with consonants” that “provided very little material encouraging smoothness in lyrical lyrics.” King Arthur’s Ouverture begins, which is very grand. It lasts for around six minutes. The different instruments voices mostly play homophonically during the majority of the Ouverture. Although the playing is intense, it’s light. Purcell was the first person to write music for a full orchestra. Although it isn’t known whether King Arthur was written for full orchestra, recent recordings include them. This adds to the grandeur and royal and holy atmosphere of this semi-opera. As the music scores never were published, there are many questions about the performance of King Arthur. Purcell wrote King Arthur’s music for solo and chorus singers. The main characters are sung by most of them, with roles that range from soprano-bass.

Thomas Patrick Betterton, King Arthur’s first actor in 1691, was the cast. This was especially interesting because Betterton, who was in his fifties during the premiere, was supposed to be King Arthur as a young ruler. His outstanding acting abilities were the reason he was selected for this role. Joseph Williams played Oswald while John Hodgson portrayed Conon. Samuel Sandford played Osmond. Edward Kynaston portrayed Merlin. John Verbruggen played Aurelius. “Come if You dare” is undoubtedly the most well-known song in the entire semi-opera. Its patriotic lyrics and uplifting, intense orchestration are the main reasons for its popularity. The song starts with loud trumpets. It is meant to sound powerful and overwhelming, as the Saxons wanted to discourage King Arthur’s army. This shifts between C-major and G-major. The second Saxon priest (Tenor), enters. The rhythms and singing sound heavy and drumlike. A few bars later, the chorus joins in. The Saxons were certain that King Arthur would not pose a threat due to the powerful orchestration and the dominant tonality.

After PurcellKing Arthur enjoyed a long and varied history following Purcell’s suicide. It was performed several times throughout the 18th-century. The semi-opera was very popular at the beginning of the century. The opera was often shown in a simplified version during this period. King Arthur was seen over 40 times in the 1735/36 theatrical year. The rest of the century saw it performed in many places, including Dublin and London. King Arthur wasn’t staged again until the late 19th century. The London production of King Arthur was the most famous. It was performed fully in 1842. Though there were many reprints throughout the 20th-century, King Arthur was really revived in the latter part of his 300-year celebration. These performances were held at festivals on many continents. Over its three hundred year existence, the opera has seen many changes. It was most likely that the opera was modified to fit different occasions, whether it was at church or in music concerts. It was easy to misunderstand, misinterpret or misunderstand certain passages because Purcell didn’t publish the scores. This is still the best and most widely used way to tell the story of King Arthur.


  • spencerknight

    I'm Spencer Knight, a 29-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about a variety of topics related to education, from teaching strategies to student success stories. I hope to help others achieve their educational goals and help them develop a lifelong love of learning.



I'm Spencer Knight, a 29-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about a variety of topics related to education, from teaching strategies to student success stories. I hope to help others achieve their educational goals and help them develop a lifelong love of learning.

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