In 1728 George Frideric Handel presented his new Italian opera at the King’s Theatre in London. He named it Tolomeo, re d’Egitto, which in translation into English means Ptolemy, King of Egypt. It is an opera in three acts by to an Italian text by Nicola Francesco Haym. The role of Tolomeo was masterfully performed by famous castrato Senesino.
Opera Tolomeo was revived twice in 1730 and 1733 and then forgotten for 200 years until its first modern production in 1938. However, the real period instruments were used only in 1996 production.
Curiously, Tolomeo’s libretto tells us a story from around 108 BC. The exiled king of Egypt Ptolemy IX loses his throne to his brother Alessandro, who starts to rule as Ptolemy X. Their mother Cleopatra III favored Alessandro and deposed Ptolemy IX who escapes to the island of Cyprus losing everything, even his wife. ‘
Throughout his life famous Venetian poet and journalist Apostolo Zeno wrote the libretti for 36 baroque operas with historical and mythological themes. Most of those operas are forgotten and only one stands out – Italian opera seria in 3 acts Faramondo created by George Frideric Handel. Zeno’s libretto is based upon the story of Pharamond, a mythological Frankish king and the early history of France.
It was one of the last 4 Handel’s operas. Faramondo premiered in London in 1738. Opera did not attract big audience and was deemed not to be a great success by Londoners. It went off the stage only after eight performances and forgotten for 238 years. It was not a great success as public was getting tired of Italian operas and Handel’s monopoly of the stage.
Personally, we are never getting tired of Handel’s music. Thus, we managed to find for you full video of the complete opera Faramondo on YouTube.com that goes for almost 2.5 hours. It was performed by brilliant singers in 2009. Among them are: Max Emanuel Cencic, Philippe Jaroussky, Fulvio Bettini, In-Sung Sim, Terry Wey, Xavier Sabata, Marina De Liso, Sophie Karthäuser, Duilio Galfetti. The conductor of the orchestra was Diego Fasolis. Judge for yourself.
The story of Italian opera seria Alcina, like two other Handel operas Ariodante and Orlando, was based on the adaptation of romance epic Orlando Furioso written by Ludovico Ariosto.
Up to this day the author of the Italian libretto remains unknown. However, opera experts suspect that it was created by Riccardo Broschi, the brother of the genius opera singer Farinelli who was in London at that baroque period of time. Ballet company of famous French dancer Marie Sallé was still performing there too, and Handel set several music musical sequences as the opportunity for dance as he did with opera Ariodante. It is easy to understand as new French opera-ballet was in fashion.
Opera Acina presented its premiere at the Covent Garden Theatre on April 16, 1735. George Frederic Handel was conducting the orchestra. Alcina told the story full of magic along with the heroic and noble qualities of a knight Ruggiero, whose role was sung by a famous castrato Giovanni Carestini. The role of a sorceress Alcina was performed by Anna Maria Strada del Po. Rising opera star Cecilia Young – one of the greatest English sopranos of the 18th century, sang as the sorceress Morgana.
Alcina was forgotten after its brief revival in Brunswick in 1738. Only in 1928 there was a first full-blown performance in in Leipzig in 1928. Now the opera is fully revived and performed regularly all over the world. It is considered one of the best Handel’s opera masterpieces.
Throughout his life George Frideric Handel created 42 most outstanding baroque operas. In 1735 he composed two masterpieces of baroque music and one of them was his 33d – Italian opera seria Ariodante. We still don’t know who was his librettist – his name remains anonymous. We only know that it was remade from famous Antonio Salvi work based on Italian romantic epic Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.
The environment around Handel was getting more and more hostile. Critics hated him and blamed for composing operas in Italian language. Handel still enjoyed silent and financial support of king George II and his wife. However, Frederick, Prince of Wales, disliked him. Frederick became a thorn in the side of his parents, making a point of opposing them in everything, including their fondness of Handel’s operas. He together with the group of young aristocrats went as far as setting up and funding another opera company called The Opera of the Nobility in order to rival the Second Royal Academy of Music company under Handel and destroy reputation of the great composer.
The Opera of the Nobility did not survive and went bankrupt in 1737. However, it managed to cause a lot of harm to Handel by stealing his best singers, among which were Francesca Cuzzoni and Antonio Montagnana. Eventually nobles hatred towards Handel forced Second Royal Academy of Music company headed by great classical composer into the bankruptcy too.
The performance of the opera seria Ariodante took place in in the Covent Garden Theatre, London, on 8 January 1735. It was innovative as Handle included in each act opportunities for dance originally composed for brilliant French ballet dancer Marie Sallé and her company.
Great music and Handel’s groundbreaking insertion of French dance music in the opera worked its charm again. Famous castrato Giovanni Carestini performed as Ariodante, while soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pò played the role of Ginevra, daughter of the king of Scotland.
Ariodante was an instant success and during its premiere season at Covent Garden received 11 performances. Unfortunately, opera Ariodante shared the fate of other dramatic creations of the great composer. Actually, this opera had it worse as its musical score was published only two hundred years after composer’s death in the early 60s of the 20th century.
Now Ariodante is performed regularly. Music fans and experts consider it one of Handel’s finest baroque operas.
Around 1724 Famous Italian librettist Nicola Francesco Haym brought George Frideric Handel a new libretto. Famous baroque composer got interested even though the story was based on an older libretto by Antonio Save who, in turn, losely based it on the play of 17th century brilliant dramatist Pierre Corneille. Great French tragedian created this play in 1651 and named it Pertharite, roi des Lombards. Without further ado Haym “adjusted” it and named his libretto Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi – which means in English Rodelinda queen of Lombardy. This is how Handel created another of his masterpieces – Italian opera seria Rodelinda.
It is an opera in three acts written for the Royal Academy of Music. First performance of Rodelinda took place at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London, on 13 February 1725. Handel perused the same singers that participated in his previous opera seria Tamerlano with leading roles performed by alto castrato Senesino and soprano Francesca Cuzzoni.
Opera Rodelinda was a success as 13 other performances followed in the first run. It was staged again in end of 1725 and in 1731, and even brought to Hamburg for European performance. After Handel’s death Rodelinda was ignored and then forgotten until Oskar Hagen – Handel’s enthusiast, revived it in 1920. Today this opera is in the list of the most important operas ever created.
We call this baroque opera masterpiece Giulio Cesare, although its full name is Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Its translation into English simply means Julius Caesar in Egypt. Handel created this baroque Italian opera in three acts based on the libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym for the Royal Academy of Music in 1724. It was performed for the first time the same year on 20th of February in London.
The premiere of the opera Giulio Cesare was an instant hit. Public admiration level was so high that Handel numerously revived it in 1725, 1730, and 1732. He also brought it to continental Europe opera audience applauded to his opera in Paris, Hamburg, and Brunswick.
The libretto revolves around queen Cleopatra and her relations with Julius Caesar (Giulio Cesare). Cleopatra uses at first her womanly charms trying to seduce Cesare and become the queen of Egypt, but eventually she falls in love with Cesare and her passion completely consumes her. The role of Cesare was sung by the opera star – castrato Senesino. Role of Cleopatra was performed by famous soprano Francesca Cuzzoni.
Best Opera Seria Forgotten for Almost 200 Years
Many modern opera experts consider Giulio Cesare as be Handel’s finest Italian opera. Some even think of it as the best in the history of opera seria. And they have lots of reason for that: it is hard not to admire superb vocal writing, dramatic impact, and deep and profound orchestral arrangements.
Like Handel’s other works in the opera seria genre, Giulio Cesare fell into obscurity in the 19th century and was not staged till 1923 in Munich. Today opera Giulio Cesare is regularly performed. It is by far the most popular of Handel’s operas, with over 200 productions in many countries. There is an understandable shortage of castrati voices today while the roles of Cesare, Ptolemy and Nirenus in original opera were performed by castrati. There were many attempts to replace and transform these voices by baritone, contralto or even mezzo-soprano. In fact, singers repeat these attempts even in 21 century performances. However, in desire to “purify” the opera performance those roles are sung more and more frequently by countertenors.
There were several most unusual events that were surrounding the creation of the great opera Tamerlano by George Frideric Handel.
It was based on 2 librettos: first one was written by Nicola Francesco Haym and second created by Nicolas Pardon
Handel composed Tamerlano in the space of only 20 days
The story was set up in the contemporary fashion for Turkish culture
Role of the sultan Bajaset was one of the first major tenor roles in opera
Handel created Tamerlano as an Italian opera in 3 acts for the Royal academy of music. It was first performed at the King’s Theatre in 1724. Obviously, that year was very creative and successful for great baroque composer as managed to produce for amazed audiences another two masterpieces: outstanding opera Giulio Cesare and opera Rodelinda. This an achievement without parallel.
First run of Tamerlano was clearly a winner as, overall, it included 12 performances which was a lot for baroque period music of those times. In addition, Tamerlano was revived again on 13 November 1731. And then it received a production in Hamburg with the recitative in German and the arias in Italian.
As with all other Handel operas, Tamerlano fell into obscurity until 1924, when its first modern production took place in Karlsruhe, Germany. Now due to the revival of public interest to baroque music, Handel operas are performed more frequently.
Here are the events that led to the creation of the famous opera Rinaldo at the height of baroque period music. After triumphant premiere of the his opera Agrippina in Venice in 1709 baroque composer George Frideric Handel became world famous and the idol of European audiences.
This sudden fame led to the abundance of job offers from the nobility. Among those most anxious to employ him was Prince Georg Ludwig of Hanover who later became future King George I of Great Britain. In June 1710 Handel accepted the position of Kapellmeister to Georg’s Hanover court, that gave him considerable freedom. On the basis of this job agreement, Handel left Hanover for London in late 1710 using as a pretext an earlier invitation from members of the English nobility. At that time Handel’s music was practically unknown in England, though his reputation from Agrippina was considerable in continental Europe. But by 1711, informed London audiences had become familiar with the nature of Italian opera through the numerous staged adaptations.
Beginning of Handel’s English Baroque Period
Then Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket was London’s main opera house. Its ambitious manager, Aaron Hill hired Handel to write the first Italian language opera for the London stage. For this purpose Aaron Hill already had engaged an all-Italian company for the 1710–11 opera season. He employed an Italian poet and language teacher, Giacomo Rossi, to write a libretto based on an epic Jerusalem Delivered of the 1st Crusade by the 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso. The baroque opera Rinaldo was named after the main protagonist of the epic. It was the story of love, battle and redemption. The aim of Hill was to create a lavish spectacle with many original vivid effects and combine the virtuosity of Italian singing with the extravagance of the 17th century masque.
The music for Rinaldo was composed very quickly. Handel heavily borrowed from the operas and other works that he had composed during his four year travels in Italy. Its premiere at the Queen’s Theatre on 24 February 1711, under Handel’s direction, was a triumphant success with the public. Further 12 performances were immediately scheduled, and 2 more were added at the end of the run due to public demand. Overall, Rinaldo was performed in London 53 times in Handel’s lifetime, the most for any of his operas. In fact, it is one of Handel’s greatest operas.
Success of the opera Rinaldo helped Handel dominate opera in England for several decades of the baroque period music. Rinaldo was revived in London regularly up to 1717, and a revised version was presented in 1731. The opera was also shown in several European cities; of all Handel’s musical dramas, Rinaldo was the most frequently performed during his lifetime. However, after 1731 the opera was not staged for more than 200 years. A renewed interest in baroque opera during the 20th century led to the 1st professional modern production in Handel’s birthplace, Halle, Germany in 1954. For the next 30 years the opera was rarely staged. Only after a successful run at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1984, performances and recordings of the work have become more frequent worldwide.
In his early twenties future opera genius and famous baroque composer George Frideric Handel spent several years in Italy. While Handel was staying in Rome another great baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti presented him to cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. In spite of being a religious figure of importance and a distinguished diplomat Grimani wrote libretti in his spare time, and acted as an unofficial theatrical agent for the Italian royal courts. He made Handel his protégé, and gave him his libretto for a future baroque opera Agrippina.
Libretto tells the story of the ancient imperial Rome intrigues. Agrippina, the mother of Nero, plots the downfall of the Roman emperor Claudius so her son can ascend the throne. The story is somewhat similar to Monteverdi’s 1642 opera L’incoronazione di Poppea. However, a character of Agrippina does not appear in much darker version of this Italian composer.
Grimani’s family owned a theater in Venice, so it was an obvious choice for the cardinal to present the Handel’s opera there, as part of the 1709–10 Carnival season. This was second Italian opera created by famous German composer, and probably his last composition in Italy. Handel’s performing score is lost to us. However, Handel’s autograph musical score survived. Yet, it is significantly different from the libretto which reflects changes made for the first performances.
Agrippina’s first performance took place on 26 December 1709. The instrumentation for Handel’s score was similar to all his early operas. It consisted of two recorders, two oboes, two trumpets, three violins, two cellos, viola, timpani, contrabassoon and harpsichord.
The impressive cast included many Northern Italy’s leading opera singers of the day like Antonio Carli in the lead bass role; Margherita Durastanti and Diamante Scarabelli. Two of the main male roles, Nero and Narcissus, were written for castrati, who were then superstars in Italian opera.
It was a smashing success. Agrippina proved extremely popular, and established Handel’s international reputation. Its original run was for 27 performances, extraordinarily long for that time.
Baroque Opera Revival
The opera was revised significantly before and possibly during its run. Handel borrowed extensively from his earlier oratorios and cantatas, as well as other composers including Reinhard Keiser, Arcangelo Corelli and Jean-Baptiste Lully. That kind of “borrowing” was common practice at the time, but the amount of these adaptations in Agrippina is greater than in other major dramatic works created by Handel. Later, some of Agrippina’s music, with little or no change, was used by Handel in his operas Rinaldo and Acis and Galatea.
Handels’s operas went out of fashion in the second part of the 18th century and fell into obscurity. None of them were staged between 1754 and 1920. In the 20th century the interest in Handel’s operas awakened. Opera Agrippina was revived, beginning with a 1943 production at Handel’s birthplace, Halle. Modern 21st century specialists consider opera Agrippina Handel’s first operatic masterpiece, full of freshness and musical invention. Today it is one of the most popular operas of the continuing Handel revival.
Semi-opera The Fairy-Queen by Henry Purcell was first performed on 2 May 1692 at the Queen’s Theatre, Dorset Garden in London. The libretto is an anonymous adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, many many musicologists think that the librettist of the opera was Thomas Betterton, the manager of Dorset Garden Theatre. Opera was composed 3 years before the death of English baroque composer.
Wisely, Purcell did not convert any of Shakespeare’s text to music. The spoken text is mostly as Shakespeare wrote it. Purcell composed music for short masques in every act except the first and slightly modernized the opera in keeping with 17th century dramatic conventions. The masques are related to the play metaphorically. It may seem that they bear no relationship to the play, but recent scholarship has shown that The Fairy-Queen, which ends with a masque featuring God of Marriage Hymen, was actually composed for the 15h wedding anniversary of king William and queen Mary.
The Fairy-Queen contains some of Purcell’s finest theatre music. The orchestra for the opera consists of two recorders, two oboes, two trumpets, kettledrums, string instruments and harpsichord. Specialists calculated that the complete version should run for not less than 4 hours. A letter describing the original performance shows that the parts of Titania and Oberon were played by 8 or 9 year old children. It is quite possible that other fairies were also played by children.
The musical score of The Fairy-Queen seemed to be lost forever. Luckily, it was rediscovered early in the 20th century. After the death of famous baroque composer this opera fell into obscurity, like many others from that period. Tastes were changing and the voices employed in the Fairy-Queen had also become difficult to find. List of singers shows the frequent employment of the male alto, or countertenor, a voice which, after Purcell, essentially vanished from the stage.
Growing interest in Baroque music and the rise of the countertenor helped resuscitate The Fairy-Queen. It became immensely popular – numerous recordings have been made, often using period instruments.
This video shows the “new edition” performance in 2009, honoring 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth. The entire theatrical entertainment was restored as well as the original pitch used by Purcell. It was presented at Glyndebourne Festival Opera with the orchestra conducted by William Christie.
Composer Francesco Cavalli had high hopes when his great Italian baroque opera La Calisto premiered at 1651 in Venice. After all, his old friend Giovanni Faustini created the libretto. Faustini was always heavily committed to his career as a professional librettist – his work with Cavalli was of vital importance in the development of Venetian baroque opera. This time the story was loosely based on the myth of Callisto from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to which librettist added a lot from his own imagination.
Everything seemed to be going well and the libretto became popular as soon as it was published. Cavalli even brought “heavy artillery” when he decided to stage La Calisto at the Teatro San Apollinare. That theater had the best and most complex theatrical machinery in Venice which it prepared to use in order to impress audiences. However, La Calisto bombed and did not bring the crowds expected by Cavalli.
La Calisto hit the bottom during its first run. Opera went on for over the month in the theater that could house an audience of four hundred people. But, overall, only twelve hundred people came to watch the show during its 11 performances. To make it worse, famous Italian librettist Faustini died during the performance in December 1651.
In the 20th the rediscovery of works by famous baroque composers led to the rise of new public interest. So several hundreds years later La Caliso was successfully revived. The video below shows last 10 minutes of the La Callisto final scenes. The performance took place in1996, at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels.
English baroque opera Dido and Aeneas was created by Henry Purcell to a libretto by Nahum Tate. It is based on Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid about the love Dido, queen of Carthage to the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair at his abandonment of her. Dido and Aeneas is one of the earliest English operas. it is remembered as one of Purcell’s foremost theatrical works.
Opera consists of a a prologue and three acts, it was first staged at girls’ school in 1688 and never performed again in Purcell’s lifetime.
After 1705 it was never staged again until 1895. Then, marking the the bicentenary of great English baroque composer death. students
of the Royal College of Music performed it again on the stage for the first time in modern times.
Dido and Aeneas is a monumental work in Baroque opera, and Purcell’s first and only all-sung opera work. The original music score in Purcell’s hand is lost, and the only 17th century source is a libretto, possibly from the original performance. The only copy of the musical score was made in 1750, some 60 years after the first opera performance. The libretto’s prologue did not survive the times. The music to the prologue has never been found, as well as the end of act 2 and several dances.
We managed to gather the complete opera divided into 7 extracts on YouTube. It is a 2009 opera production of Dido and Aeneas staged at the Royal Opera House in London. The Royal ballet choreographer is Wayne McGregor. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is conducted by Christopher Hogwood. The opera production marks the 350th anniversary of Henry Purcell’s birth.
Italian baroque opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) consists of a prologue and 3 acts. The libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello is losely based on historical Roman accounts about Poppea who was a mistress of the Roman emperor Nero. It tells us how Poppea was able to achieve her ambition and become a crowned empress. This is one of the first operas based on real historical events rather than Greek mythology.
Opera departs from literary morality of the 17th century. It is about adultery. The adulterous liaison of Poppea and Nero triumphs, although authors knew that several years later Nero would kill his new wife by kicking her while she was pregnant. All the major characters are morally compromised. The music for L’incoronazione di Poppea is brilliant and original, the melody reflects the human attributes of its characters. This opera work helped to redefine the boundaries of music and made Claudio Monteverdi the leading musical dramatist of his time.
The Coronation of Poppea was first performed in Venice during the 1642–43 carnival season. The opera was revived in 1651, but then completely forgotten until the rediscovery of the musical score in 1888. It instantly became the subject of scholarly attention and disputes in the early 20th century. The opera has been performed and recorded multiple times since the 1960s.
Who Was the Original Composer?
The question of authorship might never be entirely resolved. The original manuscript of the musical score did not survive. Two found copies from the 17th century significantly differ from each other, and both deviate to some extent from the libretto. What part of the music belongs to Monteverdi, and what was created by the others, is a matter of dispute. All existing versions of the libretto can’t be definitively connected to the first performance in Venice, the precise date of which is unknown.
We practically don’t have any details of the original cast, and there is no record of the opera’s initial public reception. The instrumental sections are written in 3 parts in the first copy of musical score and in 4 parts in another, without in either case specifying the instruments. However, the work is generally accepted as part of the Monteverdi operatic canon, his last and perhaps his greatest work before his death in 1643. Modern scholarship tend to view The Coronation of Poppea as the result of partnership or collaboration between Monteverdi and others, with the old composer playing a guiding role.
We want to show you the beautiful video of l’Arpeggiata and Pur Ti Miro from L’incoronazione di Poppea. If some purists get discouraged by too modern improvisation of l’Arpeggiata, please, wait till you listen to Pur Ti Miro aria, it is one of the most beautiful performances we heard.
Its name in English means The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland. And this beautiful opera has a strange revival history. Famous baroque opera composer Claudio Monteverdi created it several years before his death and presented during 1639-1640 carnival season in Venice. As its name states, The story is based upon the second half of Homer’s Odyssey. The libretto was created by Giacomo Badoaro, a Venetian nobleman and amateur poet.
Venice presentation of Il ritorno was a total success, it was performed in Bologna and next year again in Venice. After 1641 this Monteverdi masterpiece was forgotten and vanished from history. Il ritorno was performed again on stage only in the middle of the 20th century. And the first complete opera recording appeared only in 1971. Here is the reason why.
In 19th century a strange incomplete manuscript of the musical score resurfaced in Vienna but it was in many ways different from the the existing copy of the libretto. That manuscript was published in 1922 but there were great doubts in its authenticity. Some musicologists of that time went pretty far stating that the work was simply not good enough to be by Monteverdi.
Only when a 1640 booklet Le Glorie della Musica was found, specialists established with certainty that Badoaro and Monteverdi were listed as the creators of the opera. A couple of letters from Badoaro also mentioned amazing Monteverdi opera music for his libretto.
Giasone (Jason) was the most popular opera of the 17th century. In this opera Italian composer Francesco Cavalli for the first time in the opera history, separated aria and recitative.
It is an opera in three acts and a prologue with music by brilliant opera composer Francesco Cavalli and a libretto by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini. The latter was one of the most important figures in 17th century opera – Gicognini brought together elements of tragedy and comedy, and often shows signs of Spanish influence.
The main opera character Giasone was originally casted for a castrato. And there is a reason behind this choice, as Giasone is a youthful, attractive character more concerned with the sensual pleasures of love than any sort of duty. He’d rather be questing for the Golden Fleece than perform as a responsible husband and father. Believe it or not, but in the 17th century Venice such a character who shirks responsibility would be considered “effeminate”. Castrati could easily play this role as they had a youthful appearance due to lack of secondary sexual characteristics. Thus, opera castrati could play characters with erotic appeal. This would have been acceptable to the 17th century Venetian audience for such characters to have irresponsible sexual relations during the course of the dramatic opera.
Opera started in Italy at the end of the 16th century and soon became an integral part of the Western classical music tradition. This is an art form - singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining libretto and musical score. Opera includes many of the elements of spoken theater, such as acting, scenery, costumes and sometimes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.