Is Ottone Handel's greatest opera?

Monday 1 September 2014

Ottone is one of Handel’s greatest scores – and yet it is not performed as often as it should be. Here are six reasons why you don’t want to miss this one chance to see it live on stage this Autumn.

It was considered unmatchable in its day
Ottone was one of Handel’s biggest operatic successes. Music critic Charles Burney said that “the number of songs in this opera that became national favourites is greater than in any other opera that was ever performed in England.” Indeed, such was the audience’s enthusiasm that the Footmen’s Gallery was threatened with closure because of the loud cheering interrupting the performance.

Worth killing for?
Handel himself knew that he was onto a winner – so much so that he was prepared to sacrifice his star soprano rather than rewrite her music. As the story goes, Cuzzoni refused to sing an aria (“Falsa imagine”) on the grounds that it was too simple. Handel’s response was to pick her up by the waist and threaten to throw her out of a second-story window. Cuzzoni yielded and sang the aria with enormous success, including it throughout her career in recitals and concerts.

To Rome and beyond
The royal station of Ottone’s main characters is complemented by grand and exotic settings, with scenes taking place in Roman palaces, battlefields, forests and at sea. Director James Conway says: “The scene that first drew me to Ottone was the one set in a cave by the sea at night, where all the characters assemble and do not find each other, where prisoners escape, and women call out for more darkness to hide their lovers.”

An epic adventure across Europe
Ottone features one of Handel’s most intricate stories, in which two empires unite in the marriage of German emperor Ottone and Byzantine princess Teofane. Like so many of Handel’s heroines, Teofane is stronger than the fighting men around her. That was true of real-life Teofane too who, after quashing a rebellion following the death of her husband Otto II, acted as princess regent until her son could inherit the throne.

A strong cast of baroque specialists
Our period orchestra partner, the Old Street Band, is back in force, conducted by Jonathan Peter Kenny. Gillian Webster (Agrippina in 2013) returns as the villainous Gismonda, with countertenors Clint van der Linde (Jason) as Ottone and Andrew Radley as his opposite number, Adelberto. Baritone Grant Doyle (Figaro in 2012) is prince-turned-pirate Emireno.

An authentic period experience
If you’re looking for an authentic experience visually as well as musically, Ottone’s designs will be faithful to the story’s historical period, with references to Byzantine architecture such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Want to know more? Explore our website for more information and to book your tickets.

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