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Blow: Venus and Adonis

1 hour, 10 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 03 October 2010

Catherine Bott introduces a performance of John Blow's Masque "Venus and Adonis" presented at the 2010 York Early Music Festival by Theatre of the Ayre directed by Elizabeth Kenny.

This broadcast is given as part of the Early Music Show's monthly celebration of baroque opera, and the BBC's year long Focus on Opera.

Venus and Adonis was the last masque ever composed for the Stuart Court, and while it is in effect a miniature opera, it was intended as a vehicle for the members of the royal court to take part in. John Blow crafted an exquisite allegory on contemporary court issues around the classical myth of the goddess Venus and her thwarted love for the mortal Adonis. It became the model for Purcell's celebrated Dido and Aeneas.

Catherine Bott talks to several of the participants in this production about the work, and introduces the performance which was given as the climax to this year's York festival.

Music Played

1 item
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for John Blow

    John Blow Venus and Adonis

    Performers: Theatre of The Ayre: Sophie Daneman (Venus), Giles Underwood (Adonis), Laura Soper (Cupid), Helen Neeves (Shepherdess), Caroline Sartin (Shepherd), Jason Darnell (Huntsman), Frederick Long (Shepherd), children from local schools (Little Cupids), Rachel Podger (violin), Clare Salaman (violin), Galina Zinchenko (viola), Alison McGillivray (viol, bass violin), Pamela Thorby (recorder), Catherine Latham (recorder), Merlin Harrison (recorder), David Miller (theorbos, guitars), James Johnstone (harpsichord), Elizabeth Kenny (director & theorbos, guitars)


  • Synopsis


    After a two-movement French-style overture, Cupid is revealed surrounded by a troupe of shepherds and shepherdesses. He playfully threatens the courtly audience, warning that none are immune from his arrows.


    Venus and Adonis are found sitting on a couch embracing one another. They sing a languishing love-duet, and are then interrupted by ‘rural music’, announcing the arrival of a hunt: Venus bids Adonis to join the chase, for “Absence kindles new desire”. He’s unwilling to leave her, but soon the huntsmen arrive and invite him to follow. One sings of their prey, a great boar, and Adonis replies that, next to love, hunting is his chief delight. He leads the huntsmen out while they sing of Lachne, Ladon and Melampus, their favourite hounds. The act closes with a dance for one of the huntsmen.


    The curtain rises to reveal Venus and Cupid surrounded by little Cupids. Cupid sings his mother’s praise and then asks her, how can he destroy those who scorn love? Cupid then passes on the knowledge to the little Cupids, teaching them to make the wrong people fall in love with each other. Venus asks Cupid how she “shall make Adonis constant still?” He maliciously replies “Use him very ill”, at which Venus bursts into laughter. She sends the Cupids off to play, and at her command, Cupid calls in the Graces. They sing of Venus, Queen of Love, and the little Cupids re-enter to join in. The Act concludes with a succession of dances: ‘The Graces’ Dance’, a Gavotte, and a ‘Saraband for the Graces’ during which the little Cupids dress Venus and deck her with jewels.


    Venus is revealed “standing in a melancholy posture”, for Adonis has not returned from the hunt. A Cupid appears and shakes an arrow at her; Adonis is led in, mortally wounded by the boar he was hunting, and dies after an affecting scene with Venus. Grief-stricken, she calls upon the Cupids to bear her lover to heaven, while the chorus invite Echo and the woodnymphs to lament his passing.



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