MuseData: George Frideric Handel
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. It was the first new opera entirely by him to be performed at Convent Garden.
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, made under contract with the Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities (CCARH) in collaboration with Frances Bennion and Edmund Correia Jr., is available online as PDF score and parts. It is based on Handel's manuscript in the British Library.
Alcina (HWV 34)
Alcina opened at Covent Garden on 16 April 1735. The score had been finished early in February of that year. 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 favorita 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 "faourite 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.