MuseData: George Frideric Handel

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The Royal Academy (1719-28)

The Royal Academy (1729-34)

Covent Garden (1734-37)

Covent Garden opened at the end of 1732. Spoken plays constituted most of the repertory that the theater initially offered to the public. The idea of interleaving opera performances a few nights week created an opening for Handel. While Ariodante was taking shape, Handel composed ballet music for a revival of Il pastor fido and assembled the pastiche Oreste, both of which were performed at the theater late in 1734.

Ariodante (HWV 33)

Handel's Ariodante was composed between August and October 1734. Opening on 8 January 1735, it was the first new opera entirely by Handel to be performed at Convent Garden. The castrato Giovanni Carestini sang in the title role.

Antonio Salvi's text (then called Ginevra in Scozia) was originally composed in 1708 for a production (with music by Giacomo Perti) at Pratolino (Florence). It became better known through Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's setting (as Ariodante) for San Giovanni Grisostomo, Venice, in November 1716. It was this opera production that launched the stellar career of Faustina Bordoni, whose voice was by now celebrated throughout Europe.

Mark Stahura's 1994 edition of Ariodante, based on Handel's autograph in the British Library and made under contract with the Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities (CCARH) with the help of Frances Bennion and Edmund Correia Jr., is available here: Ariodante score and parts.

Alcina (HWV 34)

Alcina opened at Covent Garden on 16 April 1735. The score, which had been started early in February, was completed only eight days earlier. Anna Maria Strada del Pò took the title role. It was a popular work, enjoying eighteen performances in 1735 and three more in 1737.

File:Alcina Musette UofP.png
First movement of the Musette movement from Alcinain a harpsichord transcription from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Rich in the use of "woodland" instruments (flutes, piccolo, and oboes), a few excerpts took on a life of their own in such editions as John Walsh's Alcina for a flute, containing the overture, songs, and symphonys curiously transpos'd and fitted for the flute. John Bland's Bird of May: To a favorite aire in Alcina by Mr. Handel prompted John Simpson to issue Bird of May: To a nightingale....The adieu to the Spring Garden at Vaux Hall, and many further issues, all in 1735 and 1736. The basis for this "favourite aire" was nothing other than the Musette movement of the opera's overture. The rest of the eighteenth century, in which images of natural innocence were highly valued, was filled with musical depictions of nightingales.

The sorceress Alcina had a long history on the opera stage. Antonio Fanzaglia's libretto had been written for Riccardo Broschi's opera L/isola di Alcina, which had been performed in Rome in 1728. It was based on Cantos 6 and 7 of Ariosto's Orlando furioso. The knight Ruggiero is retained, but other roles have been modified. Handel, who had become acquainted with text during his visit to Italy in 1729, revised the music in 1736 and again in 1737, leading to a production in Brunswick in 1738.

The 1868 edition of Alcina by the Händel Gesellschaft (the German Handel Society) is available for viewing and download (1868 edition of Handel's Alcina at the Vifamusik website)

Atalanta (HWV 35)

Performed with CCARH

Handel's Atalanta was first performed on 12 May 1736. Composed one year earlier, it came to form part of a festive period immediately following the wedding of Frederick, Prince of Wales (April 27), the eldest son of King George II, to Princess Augusta of Saxony-Coburg-Gotha. The same season had begun on May 5 with a revival of Ariodante, now featuring the Italian castrato Gioacchino Conti ("Ghiziello"). Conti's range, which extended to c3, was exceptionally high and Handel exploited its capabilities. He won the great praise of Lord Shaftesbury, who immediately called him "one of the best Performers in this Kingdom". By the day before Atalanta opened Shaftsbury had come to rank Conti above Farinelli, the best known castrato of the time, for his greater agility and pitch control.

The original text of this pastorale, by Belisario Valeriani, was entitled La caccia in Etolia when it was written. Its first setting, by Fortunato Chelleri, was performed in Ferrara, 1715). The libretto formed the basis of revivals and new settings given in Modena (1716), Ravenna (1726), Florence (1727), and Vienna (1733).

Handel's autograph for Atalanta is in the British Library, with further material in the Manchester Public Library.

Arminio (HWV 36)

Although composed in September 1735, Arminio was first performed at Covent Garden on 12 January 1737. Antonio Salvi's text on Arminius (Hermann), the Germanic chief who defeated Roman legions in the first years of the first century, had been written for an earlier setting (Pratolino, 1703) by Alessandro Scarlatti. The subject itself had been treated in Venetian operas of the later seventeenth century.

Arminio was not by any measure one of Handel's more successful operas. After its initial six performances, it had no revivals, nor did it generate any significant number of circulated offshoots. Some cast members were little known to London audiences. In particular, the castrato Domenico Annibali, who sang in the title role, was well known at the Dresden court, his principal place of employment, for his appearances in the operas of Johann Adolf Hasse, but had no particular impact in London.

The German Handel Society edition is available for download from Vifamusik: Arminio (1882 edn.).

Giustino (HWV 37)

Composed during a three-week period starting on August 14, 1736, Giustino had its premier at Covent Garden on February 17, 1737. The text was inspired by that of Niccolò Beregan (Venice 1683), for Giovanni Legrenzi's like-named work, and its adaptation by Pietro Pariati (Bologna 1711). A flute arrangement of the "overture, songs and symphonys" was published soon after its premier by John Walsh (London, 1737) under the title Justin. Specific items within the work were recycled by Handel in subsequent operas and oratorios. The Händel Gesellschaft edition can be downloaded here Giustino.

Berenice (HWV 38)

Berenice, the final opera in Handel's Covent Garden series, opened on May 18 1737. Handel had composed it from mid-December to late January.

Its libretto, by Antonio Salvi, had been written in 1709 for performance at the Villa of Pratolino (Florence). As a subject for dramatization, Berenice had much older roots in Renaissance commedia. Interest in had been rekindled in the late seventeenth century by Racine's stage tragedy. It was conveyed to the musical stage by a spectacular setting for the Contarini Villa at Piazzola (near Treviso).

The work was recast for Venice (1711) as Le gare di politica e di Amore by Gio. Maria Ruggieri.

The Händel Gesellschaft edition is available for download here:Berenice.


Instrumental Music