A Bit About Handel Opera

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Since my immersion in classical music, I’ve been nerding out on Handel.  A year ago, I would have wondered why in the world there are Handel societies. Now, I can’t imagine a world without them.

So far I’ve listened at least twice to 26 of Handel’s operas and oratorios. Limiting the scope to just operas, these are my favorites:

Giulio Cesare

Any of these would be great places to start if you’re interested in exploring  the cream of the Baroque era opera crop. Giulio Cesare  is probably the best known of Handel’s operas, and it is indeed quite majestic.

Although many of his other operas are quite strong as well, the six listed above I found to be the most solid from start to finish. Runners-up include Floridante, Alcina, Faramondo, and Amadigi di Gaula.

In the not-so-hot category are Ottone, Rinaldo, Tamerlano, and Silla. All but the fourth of these are critically esteemed, so I’m probably missing something; nevertheless I found them fairly monotonous despite the occasional highlight-reel passage.

Here is a complete list of Handel operas.

Handel labored to introduce Italian opera to London, where he had taken up permanent residence in the early 1710s. His efforts met with limited success, though  Handel of course enjoyed the highest esteem in London by virtue of the quality and popularity of his other compositions (along with some of his operas).

After his death, interest in Handel’s operas fizzled out completely, but in recent decades they started to attract some interest. Today, several of Handel’s operas are performed regularly in top opera houses around the world, though not to the extent they deserve.

It’s hard to imagine why Handel operas are not staged more often, since they are so incredibly melodic and dramatic. Baroque music in general is perhaps an acquired taste for modern audiences, since it is much more elegant and disciplined than most genres of contemporary music. However, you may find that once you get into Handel opera, you won’t want to get out.

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