List of operas by Handel

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The opera house in the Haymarket—first known as the Queen's Theatre and then later as the King's Theatre—where many of Handel's works were first performed. Illustration by William Capon.

George Frideric Handel's operas comprise 42 musical dramas that were written between 1705 and 1741 in various genres. He began composing operas in Germany and then for a brief time in Italy to modest success. It wasn't until he came to England that he truly found great success in the genre. His first opera in England, Rinaldo (1711), was met with enthusiasm, and several more Italian operas soon followed. However, Handel's place as the central figure of opera in England during the eighteenth century was not solidified until, under the influence of Thomas Arne, he began composing large-scale works with English language texts. Though almost all of his English language works are technically oratorios and not operas, several of them, such as Semele (1743), have become an important part of the opera repertoire.

During the 36 years in which Italian opera was his principal concern, Handel adhered closely to the typical form of the era, determined by the precedence given to solo singing and to stage presentation in which set changes were made in front of the audience and the curtain not lowered until the work's conclusion. Recitatives preceded solo arias, usually in da capo form (though frequently with an abridged return to the chief section), dominate the operas, and scenes are normally devised to start with several characters on stage, each of whom sings an aria and then exits. The last scene typically concludes with a coro sung by the soloists; ensembles are otherwise atypical and mainly limited to scenes of communal celebration; only "Dall’orror" in Act 3 of Alcina (1735) reaches the depth of the choruses in the English choral works. Handel’s operas therefore seem to be highly similar to those of his contemporaries; what makes them unique is the brilliance of the music which skillfully conveys with instant fervor the emotional states of the characters within the context of the drama.

Overview[edit]

First edition of Handel's Giulio Cesare (1724)

Handel's earlier operas tended to be of a lighter nature, although there are intermittent moments, such as the prison scene from Almira (1705), which are highly dramatic. Handel's music for his first operas in England was often derived from musical ideas and idioms found in his cantatas and other works written during his time spent in Italy (1706–09). For example, the characteristic harmonic structure of Agrippina (1709) is obviously a retention of material from this Italian period. In general, the orchestrations of Handel's earlier operas tended to be richer and smoother than in his later works, utilizing additional instruments like bassoons to achieve different tone colours. The music for Rinaldo (1711) notably utilizes four trumpets, an instrumental choice that Handel never repeated elsewhere.

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) whose epic poem Orlando Furioso was the source for Handel's operas Orlando, Alcina, and Ariodante.

Beginning with Ottone (1722), Handel composed numerous operas for the Royal Academy of Music during the 1720s. With the exception of Flavio (1723), the operas from this period are more serious in tone and the musical expression is more astutely aligned to the opera's drama than in his earlier operas. Of particular importance from this period is Giulio Cesare (1724), which contains one of Handel's most expansive and emotively powerful scores. The sumptuous music and deft characterizations found in this work has made it one of the more frequently revived Handel operas during the 20th and 21st centuries. Also of note are Tamerlano (1724) and Rodelinda (1725) which have particularly striking leading tenor roles that Handel wrote specifically for Francesco Borosini. The later operas that Handel wrote for the Academy were not as successful as his earlier ones. The two major sopranos at the Academy, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, were intensely competitive, and Handel had to cater to them both equally in these latter Academy operas. With the exception of Admeto (1727), the attempt at balancing two leading soprano roles within an individual opera proved to hinder the work both musically and dramatically.

During the 1730s, Handel returned to writing operas of a comic and fantastic or heroic nature, largely because he no longer had to cater to the tastes of the Academy when choosing librettos. These works, such as Partenope (1730), Orlando (1733) and Alcina (1735), were influenced by the operas of Leonardo Vinci and Leonardo Leo and are written in a pre-classical manner. During this period, Handel began to more frequently utilize the scena in his works, and by the mid-1730s he was writing some of his most dramatically moving arias, such as the mad scene of Orlando and the end of Act 2 of Alcina. The size of the orchestras for these works was also larger, with Handel typically employing 12 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses, and two harpsichords in addition to four bassoons and a number of other wind instruments. In operas like Oreste (1734), Handel attempted to synthesize Italian opera with French opera in the sequences of dances and choruses, but made no further experimentation in this area outside of the operas of 1734 and 1735. Two of the operas from this period, Ariodante (1735) and Atalanta (1736), were a departure from the traditionally heroic librettos used by Handel, adopting a more realistic romantic intimacy.

By the late 1730s, Handel's attention was increasingly diverted away from composing operas and was much more focused on the English oratorio. A number of his operas from 1737 on lack the brilliance of his earlier works, most likely due to this shift in focus. Nevertheless, his operas Giustino (1737) and Serse (1738) contain some very fine music. Serse is also notable for successfully mixing comedy and poignant tragedy into a masterfully crafted plot, a development repeated less successfully in Imeneo (1740). Handel's last Italian opera, Deidamia, was produced in 1741 and was not received very well as England's taste for Italian opera had waned. Handel returned one more time to theatre music for the semi-opera Alceste in 1750.

List of works[edit]

The following is a complete list of Handel's operatic works. All are opera seria in three acts, unless otherwise stated.

HWV Title Libretto Première date Première place, theatre Modern revival Notes
1 Almira (Der in Krohnen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder: Alimira, Königin von Castilien) FeustkingFriedrich Christian Feustking, after Giulio Pancieri 1705-01-088 January 1705 Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt 1994-06-054 June 1994, Handel Festival, Bad Lauchstädt Some music lost; announced as a Singspiel but has no spoken dialogue
2 Nero (Die durch Blut und Mord erlangete Liebe) FeustkingFriedrich Christian Feustking 1705-02-2525 February 1705 Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt   Music lost
3 Florindo (Der beglückte Florindo) HinschHinrich Hinsch 1708-01-01January 1708 Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt   Almost all of the music is lost
4 Daphne (Die verwandelte Daphne) HinschHinrich Hinsch 1708-01-02January 1708 Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt   A sequel to Florindo, intended to be performed on the day after it. Almost all of the music is lost
5 Rodrigo (Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria) SilvaniAfter Francesco Silvani's II duello d'Amore e di Vendetta
Italian libretto
1707-11-00c, November 1707 Florence, Teatro di via del Cocomero 1984-00-001984, Innsbruck Some music is lost
6 Agrippina GrimaniVincenzo Grimani 1709-12-2626 December 1709, early 1710 Venice, Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo 1943-00-001943, Halle  
7a/b Rinaldo RossiGiacomo Rossi/Aaron Hill, after Tasso, La Gerusalemme liberata
Italian libretto
1711-02-2424 February 1711 London, Queen's Theatre 1954-06-00June 1954, Handel Festival, Halle HWV 7b is the 1731 revision; the libretto of a revision of 1717 also exists
8a/b/c Pastor fidoIl pastor fido RossiGiacomo Rossi, after Giovanni Battista Guarini
8b Italian libretto, 8c Italian libretto
1712-11-2222 November 1712 London, Queen's Theatre 1948-06-2020 June 1948, Handel Festival Göttingen (third, November 1734 version); 14 September 1971, Abingdon, (first, 1712 version) HWV 8c designates the version of May 1734 and its November revival. The prologue Terpsicore added to the November 1734 revival is 8b.
9 Teseo HaymNicola Francesco Haym, after Philippe Quinault's libretto for Thésée
Italian libretto
1713-01-1010 January 1713 London, Queen's Theatre 1947-06-2929 June 1947, Handel Festival Göttingen 5 acts
10 Silla RossiGiacomo Rossi, after Plutarch's Life of Sulla
Italian libretto
1713-06-022 June 1713? London, Queen's Theatre? (or Burlington House?)   Much of the music was re-used in Amadigi
11 Amadigi di Gaula RossiHaymRossi or Haym (?), after Antoine Houdar de la Motte's Amadis de Grèce, 1699
Italian libretto
1715-05-2525 May 1715 London, King's Theatre 1929-00-00Osnabrück, 1929 Various additions during the initial run and the revivals of 1716 and 1717
12a/b Radamisto HaymHaym (?), after Domenico Lalli's L'amor tirannico, o Zenobia
Italian libretto
1720-04-2727 April 1720 London, King’s Theatre 1927-06-2727 June 1927, Handel Festival Göttingen Librettos of the revised versions of December 1720 and 1728 exist
13 Muzio Scevola RolliPaolo Antonio Rolli, after a reworking of a Nicolò Minato libretto by Silvio Stampiglia
Italian libretto
1721-04-1515 April 1721 London, King’s Theatre 1928-00-001928, Essen (Act 3 only) only Act 3 is by Handel
14 Floridante RolliRolli, after Francesco Silvani's La costanza in trionfo
Italian libretto
1721-12-099 December 1721 London, King’s Theatre 1962-05-1010 May 1962, Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon Revised versions premiered in 1722, 1727 and 1733
15 Ottone HaymHaym, after Stefano Benedetto Pallavicino's libretto for Antonio Lotti's opera Teofane
Italian libretto
1723-01-1212 January 1723 London, King’s Theatre 1921-07-055 July 1921, Handel Festival Göttingen Revised versions premiered in 1726 and 1733
16 Flavio HaymHaym, after M Noris's Il Flavio Cuniberto
Italian libretto
1723-05-1414 May 1723 London, King’s Theatre 1967-07-022 July 1967, Handel Festival Göttingen The libretto of the revised version of 1732 exists
17 Giulio Cesare HaymHaym
Italian libretto
1724-02-2020 February 1724 London, King’s Theatre 1992-00-001922, Handel Festival Göttingen  
18 Tamerlano HaymHaym, after Agostin Piovene and Nicholas Pradon
Italian libretto
1724-10-3131 October 1724 London, King’s Theatre 1924-09-077 September 1924, Karlsruhe  
19 Rodelinda HaymHaym, after Antonio Salvi, after Pierre Corneille's play Pertharite, roi des Lombards
Italian libretto
1725-02-1313 February 1725 London, King’s Theatre 1920-06-2626 June 1920, Handel Festival Göttingen  
20 Scipione RolliRolli
Italian libretto
1726-03-1212 March 1726 London, King’s Theatre 1937-00-001937, Handel Festival Göttingen  
21 Alessandro MauroO Mauro
Italian libretto
1726-05-055 May 1726 London, King’s Theatre 1959-00-001959, Stuttgart (in German)  
22 Admeto HaymHaym
Italian libretto
1727-01-3131 January 1727 London, King’s Theatre 1964-00-001964, Abingdon  
23 Riccardo Primo RolliRolli, after Francesco Briani
Italian libretto
1727-11-1111 November 1727 London, King’s Theatre 1964-07-088 July 1964, Sadler's Wells Theatre (Handel Opera Society), London  
24 Siroe HaymHaym, after Metastasio
Italian libretto
1728-02-1717 February 1728 London, King’s Theatre 1925-12-00December 1925, Gera  
25 Tolomeo HaymHaym, adapted from Carlo Sigismondo Capece
Italian libretto
1728-04-3030 April 1728 London, King’s Theatre 1938-06-1919 June 1938, Handel Festival Göttingen  
26 Lotario SalviAfter Antonio Salvi
Italian libretto
1729-12-022 December 1729 London, King’s Theatre 1975-09-033 September 1975, Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames  
27 Partenope StampigliaAfter Silvio Stampiglia
Italian libretto
1730-02-2424 February 1730 London, King’s Theatre 1935-06-2323 June 1935, Handel Festival Göttingen  
28 Poro MetastasioAfter Metastasio
Italian libretto
1731-02-022 February 1731 London, King’s Theatre 1928-00-001928, Braunschweig  
29 Ezio MetastasioMetastasio
Italian libretto
1732-01-1515 January 1732 London, King’s Theatre 1926-06-3030 June 1926, Handel Festival Göttingen  
30 Sosarme SalviAfter Salvi
Italian libretto
1732-02-1515 February 1732 London, King’s Theatre 1970-00-001970, Abingdon  
31 Orlando CapeceAfter Capece, after Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso
Italian libretto
1733-01-2727 January 1733 London, King’s Theatre 1959-05-066 May 1959, Abingdon  
32 Arianna in Creta PariatiAfter Pietro Pariati's Arianna e Teseo 1734-01-2626 January 1734 London, King’s Theatre    
A 11 Oreste BarlocciAfter Giangualberto Barlocci 1734-12-1818 December 1734 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1990-00-001990, Karlsruhe Pasticcio
33 Ariodante SalviAfter Salvi, after Ariosto's Orlando Furioso
Italian libretto
1735-01-088 January 1735 London, Covent Garden Theatre    
34 Alcina AriostoAfter Ariosto's Orlando Furioso
Italian libretto
1735-04-1616 April 1735 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1928-00-001928, Leipzig  
35 Atalanta ValerianiAfter Belisario Valeriani
Italian libretto
1736-05-1212 May 1736 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1970-00-001970, Hintlesham Festival, Hintlesham  
36 Arminio SalviAfter Salvi
Italian libretto
1737-01-1212 January 1737 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1935-02-2323 February 1935, Leipzig (in German)  
37 Giustino PariatiAdapted from Pariati's Giustino, after Nicolo Beregan's Il Giustino
Italian libretto
1737-02-1616 February 1737 London, Covent Garden Theatre 1963-04-2121 April 1963, Abingdon  
38 Berenice SalviAfter Salvi 1737-05-1818 May 1737 London, Covent Garden Theatre    
39 Faramondo ZenoAdapted from Apostolo Zeno's Faramondo
Italian libretto
1738-01-033 January 1738 London, King’s Theatre 1976-03-055 March 1976, Handel Festival, Halle  
A 13 Alessandro Severo ZenoAfter Apostolo Zeno 1738-02-2525 February 1738 London, King’s Theatre 1997-03-1818 March 1997, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London Pasticcio
40 Serse StampigliaAfter Stampiglia
Italian libretto
1738-04-1515 April 1738 London, King’s Theatre 1924-06-055 July 1924, Handel Festival Göttingen Also known as Xerxes
A 14 Giove in Argo LucchiniAntonio Maria Lucchini 1739-05-011 May 1739 London, King’s Theatre 2006-09-1515 September 2006, Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth Pasticcio
41 Imeneo StampigliaAfter Stampiglia's Imeneo 1740-11-2222 November 1740 London, theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields 1960-03-1313 March 1960, Handel Festival, Halle  
42 Deidamia RolliRolli
Italian libretto
1741-01-1010 January 1741 London, theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields    
49 Acis and Galatea GayJohn Gay, drawing on John Dryden's translation of "The Story of Acis, Polyphemus and Galatea" from Ovid's Metamorphoses 1718-00-001718 Cannons, Little Stanmore   Variously described as a serenata, a masque, a pastoral opera, a "little opera" (by the composer), an entertainment, and an oratorio

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]