At the beginning of the 18th Century, England developed a strong interest in Italian Opera, or Opera Seria, as the style is now called. Handel answered this demand with a series of successful operas over the ensuing decades, beginning with Rinaldo in 1711. Throughout these decades he also wrote many of the smaller instrumental and vocal works that proved more enduring after his operas went out of fashion. See the Works section for a chronology of some notable ones.
The genre of Opera Seria could be somewhat limiting. The convention of the da capo aria (one that repeats its first section at the end) made for slow drama, and frequently the stories themselves were frivolous and improbable. There was no room allotted to choral music in these works, and this let one of Handel’s greatest talents go to waste as well. Expensive costumes and sets, and the exorbitant salaries of foreign singers caused further practical difficulties.
Still, Handel invested himself deeply in his operas. Although they fell into obscurity after his death, this was due to changing conventions only, rather than any weakness in the music. His most famous is probably Giulio Cesare, written in 1724. Click on the music for a Playlist of Opera Arias from three of my favorites.
Besides composing, Handel ran the opera company with great personal involvement. He traveled to the continent to engage foreign singers, rehearsed and performed with his musicians, and spent much of his time securing the support of aristocratic patrons. His fortunes rose and fell from year to year, but his entrepeneurial spirit was always formidable. He loved opera to the end, even when it lost him money.
Over time the public tastes changed and his audiences began to decrease. Battling financial troubles and unstable health, Handel's career in England might have ended had his talent been less versatile. Fortunately the shift from opera to oratorio let him reclaim the hearts of his audience. His final opera, Deidamia, was produced in 1741 when he was 56. Next Page
Biography: Upbringing and Early Career | Handel's Opera Career | Transition to Oratorios | Final years | Legacy | Personality