Peabody Opera Workshop presents
Scenes and ensembles from operas by
George Frideric Handel
Webb Wiggins, musical director
Roger Brunyate, artistic director
Monday, April 4, 2005 at 7:30 PM
Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
For information call 410/659-8100 x2, or eMail the Peabody Box Office
Handel’s Heroes… and Handel’s Ladies: artistic director Roger Brunyate discusses some questions of gender in Handel’s music, and the sometimes surprising light that this throws on his view of the heroic.
In the past thirty years or so, Handel has come to be valued as one of the supreme geniuses among opera composers, right up there with Monteverdi, Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner. His music is enormously varied, dramatically apt, psychologically penetrating, and eminently singable. Yet in all this time, the Peabody Opera has never performed even one of his forty-two operas. The present program of scenes is intended as a tentative step towards correcting this omission, with the possibility of a full-length Handel production in a future season.
Handel operas are known for their long sequences of arias, mostly in the da capo form in which the first section is repeated at the end, often with added vocal embellishments. This program, however, is built upon Handel’s much rarer but nonetheless outstanding vocal ensembles. Between them, the four excerpts which we shall perform include four duets, two trios, and a quartet. We shall be giving each scene, however, as a complete dramatic unit: not just the ensemble numbers, but also the recitatives and arias for each character that set them up or develop out of them.
The earliest work in the program is Radamisto (1720), Handel’s twelfth opera. A relatively stern story of love and duty in classical antiquity, it nonetheless features a splendidly fire-breathing villain, and ends with a powerful quartet immediately followed by a love duet. Giulio Cesare (1724) is next, Handel’s first and most enduring hit. In this case, we shall not focus on Caesar and Cleopatra, but on two of the secondary characters: Cornelia and Sextus, her adolescent son. Their duet of lamentation which ends the first act is possibly Handel’s most famous such ensemble, in great contrast to the scenes of violence and passion which precede it.
Orlando (1733) was Handel’s thirty-first opera; he had been turning them out at the rate of more than two per year. It is based, not on history, but on Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516), which might be described as the Lord of the Rings of its day. Handel responds to the fantasy element with a highly flexible treatment of musical form, including a semi-comic extended trio in the pastoral vein which is as touching as it is sweet. The final excerpt is taken from Imeneo (1740), Handel’s penultimate opera. The simple story focuses of the dilemma of the heroine, Rosmene, who is torn between keeping her promise to her fiancé and acknowledging her gratitude towards the man who has rescued her from pirates. She resolves the problem in a marvelous parody of a baroque mad scene, followed by a tender duet of regret sung with the lover whom she has rejected.
Recent Handel productions have been presented in a vast range of theatrical styles, ranging from the historically authentic to ripped-from-the-headlines updates. To reflect this range of possibilities, the scenes in this program will be directed by four graduate students — Jason Buckwalter, Rebecca Duren, Alysia Lee, and Joshua Wilson — members of a seminar taught by Roger Brunyate.
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