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Handel and his Rivals: Opera Arias from 18th century London

17 September 2016 @ 8:00 pm

Early Music of the Islands Handel and his Rivals: Opera Arias from 18th century London


Doors open at 6:45 pm. Pre-concert talk at 7:10 pm.

Amanda Forsythe, soprano USA

Pacific Baroque Orchestra

Alexander Weimann, music director
Possessed of astounding technique, deep musicality and undeniable charm, the young American lyric soprano Amanda Forsythe has taken the world of early music by storm. Works by Handel and rival composers from the “Opera of the Nobility” who briefly put him out of business—Porpora, Hasse and others.

Amanda Forsythe, possessor of a superb technique, was vocal and visual perfection. OPERA NEWS

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Amanda Forsythe
Pacific Baroque Orchestra
Alexander Weimann
Listen to Pacific Baroque Orchestra

The Northwest Baroque Masterworks Project, an initiative of EMSI and Early Music Vancouver, is a series of major works performed at various venues in the Pacific Northwest. Supported by Christ Church Cathedral.


Johann Adolph Hasse (1699–1783)
Sinfonia to Artaserse
Allegro, Un poco Lento, Allegro assai

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Largo from Concerto grosso op 3/2
“Mio caro bene” from Rodelinda

Nicola Porpora (1686–1768)
“Miseri sventurati” from Arianna

Francesco Maria Veracini (1690–1768)
Concerto for violin & strings
Allegro, Grave, Presto

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
“Piangero” from Giulio Cesare


George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Suite from HWV 342, 346 & Watermusic
Allegro, Air, Marche, Hornpipe
“Se’l mio duol” from Rodelinda

Giovanni Bononcini (1670–1747)
“Difese mi giurasti” from Astianatte

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Adagio from Concerto grosso op 3/1
Adagio from Concerto grosso op 3/3
“Da tempeste” from Giulio Cesare


Interest in opera never quite blossomed in seventeenth-century England. In 1692, the editor of the Gentleman’s Journal summed up the English attitude to opera thus: “Other Nations bestow the name of Opera only on such Plays whereof every word is sung. But experience hath taught us that our English genius will not rellish [sic] that perpetual Singing.”

Times had apparently changed by the eighteenth century, however. From about 1705 onward, the Queen’s Theatre in Haymarket acquired an impressive roster of instrumentalists and began to perform imported Italian operas. George Frideric Handel had the honour of supplying the first opera composed specifically for this stage, Rinaldo, in 1711, shortly after his arrival on the Fairest Isle. He had acquired mastery of the Italian style during his time spent in Rome the previous four years. In 1719, King George I authorized the creation of the Royal Academy of Music to stage Italian operas. Handel, who had established a significant reputation for himself by that point, was requested by the Earl of Burlington to travel to the Continent to collect the best singers he could for the new company. Burlington himself traveled to Rome to entice Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini to join Handel as co-musical-director of the venture.

Handel returned with four castrati, including the highly sought-after Senesino (castrati traditionally took a single name as their stage name). These male singers—castrated before adolescence to retain a boy’s vocal range with an adult’s vocal power—had to be sourced from Italy as other nations had understandably mixed feelings about the process of creating them. Their importation was indispensable to bringing the incredibly virtuosic arias of Italian opera to life on foreign soil.

Italian-trained female singers played as crucial a part in the Academy’s success as the castrati. Francesca Cuzzoni attained great acclaim as the Academy’s prima donna during the 1720s. She sang the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare (1724) opposite Senesino, who took the title role. Cleopatra’s arias, “Piangerò” and “Da tempeste il legno infranto”, occur in quick succession in Act III of the opera and show the incredible range of emotion that Handel demanded of his singers. The first of these arias finds the Egyptian Queen sentenced to prison by her power-hungry brother Tolomeo. She first laments her fate, expecting to die, but in the central section of this da capo aria, she vows to come back as a spectre to torment her prisoner. Such a quick shift of dramatic affect is a typical device of Handel and his contemporaries. In the ABA standard aria format of the time, the “B” section often displays a drastic shift in mood, only to return to the original sentiment at the conclusion. “Da tempeste” occurs after Caesar, believed to be dead, rescues Cleopatra, prompting her to express her triumph in a dazzling array of coloratura. Cleopatra’s mastery of her situation therefore finds musical embodiment in the singer’s mastery of her voice.

Cuzzoni played the title role in Handel’s Rodelinda (1725), again opposite Senesino, who portrayed her supposedly deceased husband and king, Bertarido. Rodelinda discovers that her husband still lives, but not before she grudgingly promises to marry a usurper to the throne, Grimoaldo. After Rodelinda finds out that Bertarido is still alive, Grimoaldo throws the former king in jail, believing him to be an impostor. In Act III, Bertarido escapes prison with the assistance of an ally, Unulfo, who sustains an injury as they leave the cell together. Rodelinda visits the cell only to find it empty and covered in blood. Fearing the worst, she sings the aria “Se ‘l mio duol non è sì forte” to express her grief and her desire to die rather than to live with her anguish. As we hear the descending, chromatic bass line and the musical sighs that Handel weaves over the top, we mourn with Rodelinda. Her long, often dissonant, sustained notes reach out to infinity to express her longing for an escape from what she believes is the loss of her husband. Of course, Bertarido is really alive and upon Rodelinda’s discovery of this fact after a few scenes, her aria “Mio caro bene” celebrates their newly unobstructed love. Perhaps more importantly to Cuzzoni, there was a final chance for a display of vocal fireworks before the end of the opera.

Despite the success enjoyed by Handel and his singers during in the mid-1720s, 1727 ended the Academy’s string of successful seasons. Bononcini faced increasing difficulties in England due to mounting anti-Catholic sentiments, and Astianatte would be his last opera for the Britons. Cuzzoni by this point had problems, as well: In 1726, the nobles who operated the Academy insisted on bringing in new blood to stimulate interest in the subscribers. Soprano Faustina Bordoni arrived in London that year, cast in rival roles to Cuzzoni on the same stage. During the premiere of Astianatte, the sopranos’ increasing resentment toward one another exploded into an onstage brawl. The audience also became involved, and a veritable riot ensued. Several nobles, appalled, saw to it that the theatre shut its doors. After a brief hiatus, however, the Academy was able to resume productions the following autumn.

For reasons that still remain unclear, a rival group of nobles set up a new opera company in 1733. Given the difficulties that Handel was beginning to encounter to keep up audience interest, it seems strange this new Opera of the Nobility formed in the first place. The new company hired Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora, who supplied Arianna in Nasso as the premier work. The Academy then saw Senesino and Cuzzoni stolen from them by this rival new venture. The aria “Miseri sventurati”, originally sung by Cuzzoni, shows Porpora’s more modern, emerging galant style as cultivated by the Neapolitans. The simple accompaniment texture of repeated eighth notes, relatively slow and steady chord changes, and frequent small-scale repetitions are all hallmarks of this style, which therefore contrasts with Handel’s more old-fashioned—albeit richer—language. The Opera of the Nobility managed to stage several works by Continental composers, including Johann Adolf Hasse and Francesco Maria Veracini, yet England’s fickle interest was not enough to offset the huge debts incurred by the directors. Both rival opera companies
folded in 1738.

Handel, however, had long guaranteed his personal success by securing a number of patrons for his music. After abandoning opera, he turned to the oratorio genre, of which Messiah is the best known. He supplied occasional music to the monarchy, including the Water Music, written for a ceremonial journey down the River Thames taken by George I in 1717. Handel also published instrumental music, though the Concerti Grossi, Op.3 (1734) were probably printed without his authorization or supervision. Certain of the concerti are composites or clippings from various earlier works, and therefore, performing individual movements from the pieces does them no injustice, since they were not necessarily conceived as cohesive wholes in the first place.

-Justin Henderlight, June 2016


Amanda Forsythe
Amanda Forsythe has been praised by Opera News for her “light and lustre”, “wonderful agility and silvery top notes”.  She was a winner of the George London Foundation Awards and was sponsored by them in her New York recital début.  She has also received prizes from the Liederkranz Foundation and the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation.

Forsythe made her European operatic début in the role of Corinna in Il viaggio a Reims at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, which led to an immediate invitation to make her début at the Grand Théâtre de Genève as Dalinda Ariodante.  She returned to the Rossini Opera Festival to perform the role of Rosalia L’equivoco stravagante and Bellini duets in the Malibran recital with Joyce di Donato, and, most recently, Jemmy in the new production of Guillame Tell for which she received considerable critical acclaim.

She made her débuts at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as Dalinda in Ariodante and as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées, Paris and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She returned to Covent Garden to perform the role of Manto Niobe, regina di Tebe under Thomas Hengelbrock (with subsequent performances at the Grand Theatre de Luxembourg) and Nannetta Falstaff under Daniele Gatti.  She also sang Nannetta for Opéra d’Angers-Nantes.

Forsythe made her USA stage début at the Boston Early Music Festival, with whom she is now a regular soloist.  Her roles for BEMF have included the title role in Niobe, regina di Tebe, Galatea in Acis and Galatea, Aglaure in Lully’s Psyché, Venus in Venus and Adonis (John Blow), Drusilla in L’incoronazione di Poppea, and Pallas in Eccles’ The Judgment of Paris.

With Opera Boston, she has appeared as Iris Semele, and Amenaide in Rossini’s Tancredi.  With Boston Baroque she has sung Bastienne in Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, Serpina in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Ninfa/Proserpina in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Amore in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Oberto in Handel’s Alcina; performed in Bach’s Coffee and Wedding Cantatas, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans and Handel’s Messiah.

Equally adept at contemporary music, Forsythe created the role of Young Margarta/Nuria in Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, a role which she later repeated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Calgary Philharmonic.  She also received high critical acclaim for her début as The Angel in the North American première of Peter Eötvös’ opera, Angels in America, a production which was revived at the Ravinia Festival.  She has sung world premières by John Austin and Elena Ruehr, and recorded songs by the composer Ken Sullivan.

On the concert platform Forsythe’s major engagements have included Alexander’s Feast with the Ulster Orchestra and L’allegro, il perseroso, ed il moderato with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, both under Kenneth Montgomery.  She has also sung Rossini Arias at Teatro la Fenice in Venice, Cendrillon in Viardot’s Cendrillon with the Caramoor Festival, Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Vivaldi’s Nulla in Mundo pax sincera with the Omaha Symphony, Carmina Burana with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor with the Handel and Haydn Society, Handel’s Israel in Egypt with Emmanuel Music, and Haydn’s Creation with the Charlotte Symphony.  Her other appearances include concerts with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Chamber Music Society, and Apollo’s Fire.

Her recordings with BEMF on the German CPO label include Lully’s Psyché and Venus and Adonis, as well as Minerve and La Grande Pretresse in Lully’s Thésée which was nominated for the 2008 Grammy Awards. Her other recordings include Handel’s Messiah with Apollo’s Fire on the Avie label.

Forsythe most recently sang Jemmy at the Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaroin in the new production of Guillaume Tell, starring Juan Diego Florez and directed by Graham Vick.  Other recent engagements include the title role in Handel’s Teseo with the Philharmonia Baroque, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Vivaldi’s Nulla in mundo with Mercury Baroque, Dafne in Handel’s Apollo e Dafne with Pacific Musicworks, Haydn and Mozart arias with Apollo’s Fire,  Scarlatti’s Pastorale per la natività and arias from Handel’s Messiah with the Brabants Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands, Orlando for Vancouver Early Music Festival, which was also recorded on the ATMA label, Partenope for Boston Baroque, and Edilia in Handel’s Almira for BEMF.

Alexander Weimann
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After travelling the world with ensembles like Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, the Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as music director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and as music director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra.

Alex is a regular guest conductor of Montreal-based Arion Baroque Orchestra, Les Violons du Roy, Les Voix Baroques,  the Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. He has also recently conducted the Victoria Symphony and Symphony Nova Scotia.

Alexander Weimann can be heard on some 100 CDs. Recently, he released a Juno Award-winning CD of Handel arias with superstar soprano Karina Gauvin and the Arion Baroque Orchestra, entitled Diva. He has also released Juno nominated recordings of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, Handel’s Orlando and with Les Voix Baroques, Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri.

Mr. Weimann recently moved to the Vancouver area with his wife, three children and pets, and tries to spend as much time as possible in his garden and kitchen.

The Pacific Baroque Orchestra
The Pacific Baroque Orchestra (PBO) is recognized as one of Canada’s most exciting and innovative ensembles performing “early music for modern ears.” PBO brings the music of the past up to date by performing with cutting edge style and enthusiasm. Formed in 1990, the orchestra quickly established itself as a force in Vancouver’s burgeoning music scene with the ongoing support of Early Music Vancouver.

In 2009 PBO welcomed Alexander Weimann as Artistic Director. His imaginative programming and expert leadership have drawn in many new concertgoers and his creativity and engaging musicianship have carved out a unique and vital place in the cultural landscape
of Vancouver.

PBO regularly joins forces with internationally celebrated Canadian guest artists, providing performance opportunities for Canadian musicians while exposing West Coast audiences to a spectacular variety of talent. The Orchestra has also toured B.C., the northern United States and across Canada as far as the East Coast.


17 September 2016
8:00 pm


Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral
911 Quadra Street
Victoria, British Columbia Canada


17 September 2016
8:00 pm


Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral
911 Quadra Street
Victoria, British Columbia Canada