Dioclesian, music by Henry Purcell and text by Thomas Betterton, was first performed in 1690 in the London Dorset Garden Theater, usually known at that time as The Queen's Theatre. Thomas Betterton, actor/manager of the United Company was also in charge of staging, in collaboration with the choreographer Josiah Priest.

Dioclesian became so popular that it was singled out for performance when VIP's like the Russian Czar came to London. It was still performed ninety-four years later, mainly due to the stage effects, particularly those in the final masque. This masque from Dioclesian was sometimes inserted into another opera as a separate scene, e.g. in honor of the Persian ambassador and also an African prince, early in the eighteenth century.

We have a page and a half of stage directions, giving us detailed information on the staging of the masque, which even includes the colors. On stage, a so-called machine, a term used in baroque theatre usually signifying the vehicle in which gods and other supernatural characters arrived. This could be a chariot or for instance a cloud or shell. In this case the machine consists of four “palaces” in the clouds, as you can see next to this text.

The stage directions also show us that the singers are on the stage floor and all the dancers (except the first two) are in the machine. The adults are in front, the teenagers behind them and the children at the back. This was obviously meant to enhance the perspective effect even more.

First to appear is Cupid, descending from the flies as is fitting for a character traditionally furnished with wings, as is Mercury for instance. Supported by an invisible chorus he calls upon all the fauns, nymphs, naiades and gods of the rivers and woods to appear. The first to come are a sylvan and a

follower of Bacchus, who tell us that today we are celebrating the victory of the god of love. Right after their duet, the scene changes to four palaces, actually four tiered mini-stages. At the same time a view of a palace with a beautiful garden rises from under the stage. Six orange trees in vases also appear, which tells us that the masque is not only in honor of Dioclesian and his Drusilla, the main characters in the opera, but is also in real life dedicated to King William III. Two years later they appeared again in the finale to The Fairy- Queen at which time Queen Mary was honored as well: this time the vases were made of “Chinese porcelain” in reference to her collection.

It is not clear from the stage directions to Diocle- sian that the orange trees are three-dimensional, but The Fairy-Queen shows that they were, as does "six orange trees in large vases" found in an inventory of a theatre of that time. In our recon- struction, the backdrop of the garden with the palace is based on a painting by Robert Robinson called "the Dutch Garden", which although it has very un-Dutch hills and pine trees, does have a fountain and a large manor which looks somewhat like the central portion of William's palace at Het Loo (being added to at the time). We know that Robert Robinson painted for the theatre.

The palace of the sun contains a throne. The stage directions do not tell us if there is anyone on it. Like Louis XIV, William III was associated with the sun, but in the stage directions it says that two children are dancing on the uppermost stage. As the masque concludes with the words “Triumph, victorious Love” it seems more appropriate to put one of the children on the throne.

The animation includes only the first eight minutes of the scene, which has forty-five minutes of music: from the descent of Cupid to the entry of a “Hero” and a “Heroine”.

stage directions

Stage directions in the 1690 libretto.