Handel in London

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Today, we note two anniversaries concerning Handel and his music in London.

On today’s date in 1710, the German-born composer’s music was performed in London for the first time when excerpts from his opera “Rodrigo” were performed as incidental music during a revival of Ben Jonson’s play “The Alchemist.”

It’s a nice historical touch that the great 18th century composer’s music should be used to grace a play by the great 17th century playwright who was a friend and colleague of Shakespeare. In addition to his famous satirical comedies like “The Alchemist” and “Volpone,” Ben Jonson had supplied the poetic texts for elaborate masques staged at the court of King James the First. These were a kind of precursor of the lavish Baroque operas that would become so popular in Italy. Handel’s opera “Rodrigo” had, in fact, debuted in Italy in 1707, just three years before its tunes were recycled for use on the British stage.

By 1713, the vogue for Italian operas had reached London, and Handel himself was on hand to write and stage them. On today’s date in 1713, Handel’s opera “Teseo” had its premiere at the Queen’s Theater in London. And, just to show that off-stage events could prove every bit as dramatic as those on-stage, the theater manager, a certain Owen Swiney, ran off to Italy with the box office receipts after the second night’s performance!