MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts


In the mood to ignore this brutal Siberian cold spell and enjoy tonight’s Serse from 1738 (the Stefan Herheim production, conducted by Konrad Junghänel) at the Komische Oper.

Writes Richard Wigmore:

‘One of the worst that Handel ever set to music’, ran a contemporary verdict on the libretto of Serse, whose ‘mixture of tragic-comedy and buffoonery’ fazed London audiences in 1738. History, of course, has had its revenge. Today the very qualities that puzzled its original hearers – the lightly ironic, occasionally farcical tone, the fluid structure (many short ariosos, relatively few full-dress da capo arias) – have made Serse one of Handel’s most attractive operas for stage directors and audiences alike. There are episodes of high seriousness, above all in the magnificent sequence of Act 2 arias beginning with Serse’s aria di bravura ‘Se bramate’. But much of the invention has an airy melodiousness, whether in the dulcet minuet songs for the coquettish Atalanta, or Serse’s invocation to a plane tree, ‘Ombra mai fu’, immortalised and sentimentalised as ‘Handel’s Largo’.

 More background info here.

Complete Italian libretto here.


Filed under: Handel, Stefan Herheim

Handel in Los Angeles

Tomorrow night’s performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale of Israel in Egypt by Handel is sold out. Not surprising, given the remarkable collaboration that is taking place.

The Master Chorale and Grant Gershon have teamed up with the Syrian-Armenian artist Kevork Mourad, who will provide his unique visual accompaniment to the music.

Here’s my essay for the program:


“I’m struck by how the Exodus story has spoken to so many different peoples over the last three millennia — especially today, with so many refugee crises and displaced peoples,” says Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Kiki and David Gindler Artistic Director, Grant Gershon. “To me, the heart of the Exodus story is this miraculous and unique restoration of a people to their homeland.”

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Filed under: Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered: Alcina Casts Surprising Spells in Santa Fe


Elsa van den Heever (Alcina) © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2017

My review of Santa Fe Opera’s Alcina for Bachtrack:

George Bernard Shaw crystallised longstanding biases when he declared that Handel’s operas were “only stage concerts for shewing off the technical skill of the singers”. David Alden, a longstanding maverick director and hero of Regie-philes, made his reputation in part through his striking interpretations of Handel. If anything, his production of Alcina, which he first staged at the Opéra National de Bordeaux in 2012 (with many of the same singers), pushes too far in the opposite direction to the theatrically static fossil of Shaw’s stereotype.


Filed under: directors, Handel, review, Santa Fe Opera

The Devil Gets the Best Tunes


Laurence Cummings (Photo by Robert Workman)

Here’s a piece I wrote for this month’s Juilliard Journal about Agrippina:

In one of Agrippina‘s pivotal scenes, the Emperor Claudius—at first presumed dead at sea by the scheming title character, only to be inconveniently rescued—crows in triumph over “conquered Britain” as a “new subject” for the Roman throne. That wouldn’t exactly be music to Brexit supporters—but, then, international migrants like George Frideric Handel (né Georg Friedrich Händel) would have had a harder time in a Europe of zealously policed borders.

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Filed under: Handel, Juilliard

Mr Handel

gfhandelKeeping watch in his Brook St bedroom.

Filed under: Handel, photography

Alexander’s Feast: A Handelian Ode to the Power of Music

2016-04-16-alexanders-feastMy essay on Handel’s magnificent ode Alexander’s Feast has been posted on the LA Master Chorale Site:

It sounds strange to refer to George Frideric Handel as a neglected composer. Messiah is such a fixture that the holiday season would feel bereft   were it suddenly to disappear from the scene. (Never mind that its association with Christmas postdates the practice during the composer’s lifetime.)

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Filed under: choral music, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Hidden Handel

Director Trevore Ross on staging Handel’s oratorios for the LA Master Chorale. First in their five-season-long project is Alexander’s Feast.

Filed under: choral music, directors, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

The Power of Musick

Filed under: Handel

Handel Discovey

In time for Handel’s birthday on Tuesday, Gramophone magazine reports on the upcoming premiere in April of a cantata by the composer from his early period in Italy. The score was recently discovered in the private collection of early-music figure Ton Koopman:

Koopman’s website explains: ‘It is an earlier but very different version of the cantata [‘Tu fedel? Tu costante?’, HWV 171]. Only the first aria is substantially the same, while the three remaining arias are entirely new. HWV 171a, as the cantata will be known, also differs from the later version in calling for an oboe in addition to two violins and basso continuo. There can be no doubt about Handel’s authorship, because of numerous motivic connections with his other works, including the opera Almira, performed in Hamburg in 1705, before the composer left for Italy.

Filed under: Handel, music news

Street Symphony’s Messiah Project

Street Symphony, the LA-based ensemble of musicians who bring their art to prisons, Skid Row, and other marginalized groups, has posted this story of homeless combat veteran Don Garza and how he was affected by Handel’s music (hat tip: Ayana Haviv):

Filed under: Handel, music news

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