Opernpasticcio in three acts (1734)
Music by Georg Friedrich Händel
Libretto by Giovanni Gualberto Barlocci
Opera in concert in Italian
Sunday, 15 November 2020, 7 pm
Ifigenia narrowly escaped being sacrificed on Aulis by Agamemnon, her own father. As a result, her mother Clytemnestra later stabbed Agamemnon to death. Ifigenia’s brother Oreste avenged their father by killing their mother. The curse on the family of Tantalus looms over Ifigenia’s fate: as long as the wicked patriarch Tantalus has descendants every one of them will kill a family member. At the beginning of the 1734 season in London, Handel was once again forced to establish a new opera company. His lease had expired at the Haymarket Theatre which was henceforth to be the home of his rivals, the Opera of the Nobility. To make matters worse, that company had also engaged every singer who was popular in London at the time. Handel moved into the new Covent Garden Theatre and, with very little time to compose, hurriedly cobbled the pasticcio Oreste together from parts of the works he had written over the past 27 years. The plot follows a libretto by Giovanni Gualberto Barlocci which is based on Euripides’ drama Iphigenia in Tauris, but makes Ifigenia’s brother Oreste the titular hero rather than Ifigenia, the eponymous heroine in Gluck’s and Goethe’s later works. Due to the practical considerations of staging an opera the roles in the Handel pasticcio differ considerably from the characters of ancient myth and from the later Goethe version. In Oreste, Ifigenia also serves as a priestess in Tauris, but her brother Oreste arrives alone. His friend Pilade and his wife Ermione, who does not appear in Euripides and is a role written especially for Handel’s prima donna Anna Maria Strada, follow him. Oreste received its premiere on 18 December 1734 in the Covent Garden Theatre, the predecessor of today’s Royal Opera House, in the presence of King George II and was greeted with “great applause”. Despite this, only two more performances followed. Although Handel regarded Oreste as a distinct piece and a drama in its own right, and although pasticcio was common practice in the Baroque era, the work was completely forgotten for two and a half centuries. It was not rediscovered until the Handel festival in Halle, Germany in 1988 and in 1991 it was included in the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe, the historical and critical collected works of Handel.