George Frideric Handel

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George Frideric Handel (in German Georg Friederich Händel, 1685-1759) is, alongside Johann Sebastian Bach, regarded as one of the greatest baroque composers in history. Handel composed more than 600 works, many of which are still being performed.

In 1728 Handel and Johann Jacob Heidegger founded the New Royal Academy of Music in London, a new opera company replacing the old Royal Academy of Music, which had gone bankrupt, and satisfying the London audience's appetite for Italian opera. By then, Handel had been living in London for sixteen years and had the year before settled as a naturalised British subject. At the time, he was the undisputed number one composer in the British capital. Composing Orlando for the fourth season of the New Royal Academy of Music, the opera preiered at the King's Theatre on 27 January 1733, complete with new costumes and sets, which was quite remarkable at a time when opera costumes and sets were constantly re-used. Amazing scenic effects were all the rage then and were though to be vital to a magical opera with many transformations such as Orlando. Handel had the use of an excellent cast for Orlando, starring the castrate Senesino as Orlando (the last principal role Handel wrote for him), Anna Strada del Pò as Angelica, Francesca Bertolli as Medoro, Celeste Gismondi as Dorinda and the deep bass Antonio Montagnana in the role of the magician Zoroastro.

The text was adapted from an older libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, which was based on Ludovico Ariosto's sixteenth century text Orlando furioso, which had been put to music before by Domenico Scarlatti. Incorporating the content of Aristo's text into three acts, Handel created a psychological character study centering on delusional love, one of the most original and rich operas in his large body of works.