New Production Theater an der Wien
This half serious, half light-hearted comedy about the fragility of love is a bittersweet lesson for lovers. The story, laced with both serious and comic elements, had already aroused Handel’s dramatic instinct and his musical imagination the first time he came across the libretto in 1708. But there were some people who held Silvio Stampiglia’s “immoral” textbook to Partenope to be extremely controversial. Handel’s idea of performing the work on the stage of the Royal Academy of Music even led to an indignant outburst from the impresario Owen Swiney.
Partenope, founder and regent of Naples, is being courted by three persistent lovers: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. Although she is well-disposed towards Armindo she chooses Arsace. But Emilio, the military-minded leader of the neighbouring country, aims to force Partenope to bestow her love on him, before he ends up having to suffer a humiliating defeat in battle. As if these complications were not enough, Arsace’s jilted lover Rosmira also appears, disguised as a man, and attempts to win back her fickle betrothed with vengeful behaviour.
Partenope is without doubt one of the best of Handel’s thirty-five London operas. He completed the composition on February 12th, 1730, and a mere twelve days later the first performance of Partenope was staged. The music is extremely varied and characterised by arias of great dramatic impact and numerous ensembles. Laced with humour, sadness, pity, pain, frustration and reconciliation, Partenope provides a crucial lesson in the vagaries of love. To accompany this production the symposium “From Naples to Hamburg – Partenope’s European Travels” will be held at the Theater an der Wien on February 23rd and 24th (see p. 65).