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For the Italian commune, see Ottone, Emilia-Romagna.

Ottone, re di Germania (Otto, King of Germany; HWV 15) is an opera by George Frideric Handel, to an Italian–language libretto adapted by Nicola Francesco Haym from the libretto by Stefano Benedetto Pallavicino for Antonio Lotti's opera Teofane.[1] It was the first new opera written for the Royal Academy of Music (1719)'s fourth season and had its first performance on 12 January 1723 at the King's Theatre, Haymarket in London. Handel had assembled a cast of operatic superstars for this season and the opera became an enormous success.

The story of the opera is a fictionalisation of some events in the lives of Otto I, his son Otto II and the Byzantine Princess Theophanu, who became the wife of Otto II in a state marriage intended to form an alliance between the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires.


The King's Theatre, London, where Ottone had its first performance

The German-born Handel, after spending some of his early career composing operas and other pieces in Italy, settled in London, where in 1711 he had brought Italian opera for the first time with his opera Rinaldo. A tremendous success, Rinaldo created a craze in London for Italian opera seria, a form focused overwhelmingly on solo arias for the star virtuoso singers. In 1719, Handel was appointed music director of an organisation called the Royal Academy of Music (unconnected with the present day London conservatoire), a company under royal charter to produce Italian operas in London. Handel was not only to compose operas for the company but hire the star singers, supervise the orchestra and musicians, and adapt operas from Italy for London performance.[2][3]

For the fourth season in 1723,for which his first opera was Ottone, Handel assembled a cast of star singers including the internationally famous castrato, Senesino, beginning a long and sometimes stormy association with Handel that included creating seventeen leading roles in his operas for London, at a vast salary.[4] The star soprano Margherita Durastanti, who had sung in many of Handel's early works in Italy as well as his previous operas in London joined the cast, as did English soprano Anastasia Robinson, who was unhappy about much of the music Handel had written for her to sing in Ottone, feeling that she could not portray, as he desired, scorn and anger, and appealed in a letter to one of the patrons of the Royal Academy to intervene with Handel to write gentler music for her to suit her abilities.[5] Also in the cast was another internationally renowned castrato, Gaetano Berenstadt, in the first of three roles he created in Handel operas.[6]

New to London for Ottone, in addition to Senesino, was celebrated Italian soprano Francesca Cuzzoni.[7] She knew that Handel had written much of the music for the opera before he had hired her, and at the first rehearsal with the composer, indicated that she would like him to write a new entrance aria especially for her, to show her unique talents and make a good first impression with the London public. On being asked to replace the aria "Falsa imagine" with a new one, Handel, according to his first biographer John Mainwaring, flew into a rage:

Having one day some words with CUZZONI on her refusing to sing Falsa imagine in OTTONE; Oh! Madame, (said he), je sçais bien que Vous êtes une véritable Diablesse: mais je Vous ferai sçavoir, moi, que je suis Beelzebub le Chéf des Diables (I know that you are a very devil: but I must tell you, I am Beelzebub the Chief of the Devils).; With this he took her up by the waist, and, if she made any more words, swore that he would fling her out of the window.[4]

Cuzzoni yielded and sang the aria Handel had written with enormous success, including it throughout her career in recitals and concerts.[4]

Handel had seen Antonio Lotti's opera Teofane, to the same libretto as Ottone, in Dresden in 1719, and with three of the same singers in the same roles, though with newly-written music by Handel, they had played in the Lotti work - Senesino, Giuseppe Maria Boschi and Margherita Durastanti repeated their roles from the Lotti opera in Ottone.[5]


Francesca Cuzzoni, who created the role of Teofane
Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 12 January 1723
Ottone alto castrato Senesino (Francesco Bernardi)
Teofane soprano Francesca Cuzzoni
Emireno bass Giuseppe Maria Boschi
Gismonda soprano Margherita Durastanti
Adelberto alto castrato Gaetano Berenstadt
Matilda contralto Anastasia Robinson


Time: Around 970 AD

The opera is based on events from the lives of Otto I and Otto II. The "Argument" to the opera provides the context of the events that precede the opera[8]


Senesino, who created the role of Ottone

Ottone's father had sent him to Italy to fight the Greeks in their battle for Italy. Ottone prevailed over the Greeks, and the Saracens as well. Having obtained a peace agreement with the Greeks, he acquired as his fiancée Teofane, the daughter of Romano, the Eastern Emperor. Basilio, Theophane's brother, had been driven into exile by "the Tyrant" Nicephoro, until his recall, years later, by Zemisces to assist in governing the empire. However, Basilio had become a pirate during his exile, and took on the name of Emireno. Unaware of Ottone's victories, he gave chase to the escort which was transporting Teofane back to Rome, and was captured. Meanwhile, Adelberto, son of the "Tyrant in Italy" Berengario, under the influence of his mother Gismonda, instigated a rebellion by Rome against the Germans. The "Argument" acknowledged these events as historical.

The "Argument" then went on to mention the fictional events for dramatic purposes initiating from the capture of Teofane by Adelberto, and that Teofane falls in love with Adelberto while he is incognito in Constantinople.

Act 1[edit]

After Gismonda has instigated the rebellion, she persuades Adelberto to pose as Ottone as he tries to win Teofane over. Teofane had, prior to this, fallen in love with Ottone's portrait, and when she meets Adelberto (as Ottone), the discrepancy in the appearances disconcerts her(Aria- Falsa imagine - "Deceiving image"). Meanwhile, the captured Emireno continues to conceal his identity from Ottone. Matilda, cousin of Ottone and the fiancée of Adelberto, demands troops to avenge Adelberto's revolt and betrayed faith. Praising Matilda as a "brave German Amazon", Ottone assents. Adelberto is on the brink of winning Teofane's hand, but then learns that Ottone is drawing near. Gismonda arms Adelberto and sends him off into battle.

Act 2[edit]

A caricature of Margherita Durastanti,who created the role of Gismonda

Adelberto has been captured. In the meantime, Matilda's attitude toward Adelberto has begun to soften, and she has a meeting with Gismonda. Later, she visits Ottone just before he and Teofane are to meet for the first time, and she begs for mercy on behalf of Adelberto. Ottone disdains the request, but embraces Matilda out of pity. Teofane sees this and jumps to the conclusion that he is unfaithful.

The next scene is in a garden near the River Tiber, at night. From an underground passage, Emireno and Adelberto have escaped, with the presumed surreptitious assistance of Matilda. Before a boat manned by several of Emireno's men leads them off, Emireno has abducted Teofane, who was walking dejectedly in the garden and faints upon being captured. Gismonda and Matilda are pleased that the night has furthered their plans.

Act 3[edit]

Anastasia Robinson, who created the role of Matilda

Gismonda is gloating over Ottone's misfortunes. A storm has caused Emireno and Adelberto to put in to land. Emireno then realises who Teofane is, but continues to conceal his own identity. He does try to embrace her, but Teofane and Adelberto look upon this as some sort of advance on her. Emireno orders the arrest of Adelberto, and tries to calm Teofane's suspicions, but leaves without giving a full explanation. Teofane prays for death.

Matilda then explains to Ottone about Teofane's capture. Gismonda, in turn, says that Matilda had helped in the escape of Emireno and Adelberto. Matilda becomes remorseful. Adelberto then is brought in, in chains. Matilda thinks of stabbing Adelberto, but her resolve fails. Contemptuous of this weakness, Gismonda tries to take her own life, but the arrival of Teofane stops this. The entire situation becomes unravelled. In the end, Ottone is united with Teofane. Gismonda and Adelberto must abase themselves. In a sudden change, Matilda consents to marry Adelberto.

Musical features[edit]

The arias in Ottone place less emphasis on bravura and dazzling virtuosity than in Handel's previous operas and are notable for expressive beauty. Many of the arias and instrumental movements from the piece became concert favourites, according to musical historian Charles Burney.[9]

The opera is scored for recorder, two oboes, two bassoons, strings and continuo (cello, lute, harpsichord).

Reception and performance history[edit]

Caricature of Gaetano Berenstadt, who created the role of Adelberto

Handel had completed the first version of "Ottone" on 10 August 1722, but revised the opera before its first performance.[10] The opera was a great success in Handel's lifetime, and received revivals in December 1723, 1726, 1727 and 1733, in some cases with additional music. After the first performances of the initial run, demand for tickets was so great that they were sold at much more than their face value, in an early example of ticket touting.[4]

Not only the wealthy and aristocratic patrons of the opera were enthusiastic about the performance and the singers: their servants who were in attendance on them were allowed free admission to the gallery and such was their enthusiasm during the opera that a notice was inserted in the London press, as printed in the Daily Courant on 26 January 1723:[11]

Upon Complaint to the Royal Academy of Musick, that Disorders have been of late committed in the Footmen’s Gallery, to the Interruption of the Performance; This is to give Notice, That the next Time any Disorder is made there, that Gallery will be shut up.”

18th century musicologist Charles Burney noted that "the number of songs in this opera that became national favourites was perhaps greater than in any other that was ever performed in England " and "the slow air "Falsa imagine", (which Cuzzoni had at first not wished to perform), "the first which Cuzzoni sung in this country, fixed her reputation as an expressive and pathetic singer."[12] John Gay complained in a letter to his friend Jonathan Swift that such was the craze for Italian opera created by Ottone that no one in London was interested in any other form of art or literature:

As for the reigning amusements of the town, it is entirely music...there is nobody allowed to say "I sing" but an eunuch or an Italian woman. Everybody is grown now as great a judge of music as they were in your time of poetry, and folks that could not distinguish one tune from another now daily dispute about the different styles of Handel [and other composers]. People have now forgot Homer, and Virgil, and Caesar, or at least, they have lost their ranks;for, in London and Westminster, in all polite conversations, Senesino is daily voted to be the greatest man that ever lived.[9]

Ottone also is notable as the only Handel opera in which Farinelli appeared, in the role of Adelberto, in December 1734.[8] In Germany, Ottone was staged in Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Hamburg in the 1720s. The next production in Germany, on 5 July 1921 in Göttingen, was the first revival of any Handel opera in the twentieth century. In the UK, the next production after 1734 was given by the Handel Opera Society on 19 October 1971 at Sadler's Wells Theatre.[8] With the revival of interest in Baroque music and historically informed musical performance since the 1960s, Ottone, like all Handel operas, receives performances at festivals and opera houses today.[13] Among other productions, Ottone was performed by the King's Consort at the Theater an der Wien in 2010 [14] and will be given in many parts of the UK by English Touring Opera in the autumn of 2014.[15]


Year Cast:
1993 James Bowman,
Claron Mcfadden,
Jennifer Smith,
Dominique Visse,
Michael George,
Catherine Denley
Robert King,
The King’s Consort
CD:Hyperion CDS44511/3
1993 Drew Minter,
Lisa Saffer,
Juliana Gondek,
Ralf Popken,
Michael Dean,
Patricia Spence
Nicholas McGegan,
Freiburger Barockorchester
CD: Harmonia Mundi HMU907073.75



  1. ^ McLauchlan, Fiona, "Lotti's Teofane (1719) and Handel's Ottone (1723): A Textual and Musical Study" (August 1997). Music & Letters, 78 (3): pp. 349-390.
  2. ^ Dean, W. & J.M. Knapp (1995) Handel's operas 1704-1726, p. 298.
  3. ^ Essays on Handel and Italian opera by Reinhard Strohm. Retrieved 2013-02-02. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Ottone". Handel House Museum. Retrieved 31 May 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Burrows, Donald (1998). The Cambridge Companion to Handel. Cambridge University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0521456135. 
  6. ^ Macy, Laura (2008). The Grove book of Opera Singers. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195337655. 
  7. ^ Rogers, Francis (1943). "Handel and Five Prima Donnas". The Musical Quarterly XXIX (2): 214–224. doi:10.1093/mq/XXIX.2.214. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  8. ^ a b c Dean, Winton, "Handel's Ottone (October 1971). The Musical Times, 112 (1544): pp. 955-958.
  9. ^ a b Burrows, Donald (2012). Handel (Master Musicians). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199737369. 
  10. ^ Dean, Winton, Review of Handel and His Singers: The Creation of the Royal Academy Operas, 1720-1728 by C. Steven LaRue (May 1996). Music & Letters, 77 (2): pp. 272-275.
  11. ^ "Handel Reference Database". Retrieved 35 June 2014. 
  12. ^ Burney, Charles (1957). A General History of Music, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. Dover. ISBN 978-0486222820. 
  13. ^ "Handel:A Biographical Introduction". Handel Institute. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  14. ^ "Handel 'Ottone' in Vienna, November 2010". The King's Consort. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "Ottone". English Touring Opera. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 


  • Dean, Winton; Knapp, J. Merrill (1987). Handel's Operas, 1704-1726. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-315219-3.  The first of the two volume definitive reference on the operas of Handel

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