London Handel Festival celebrates Handel’s Divas

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The London Handel Festival launches at the Royal Opera House‘s newly reopened Linbury Studio Theatre on Wednesday 27 March 2019.

The Festival, which runs until 29 April 2019, takes Handel’s Divas as its theme and will explore the lives of the famous women singers – the divas of their day – who were associated with Handel and for whom he wrote many of his most famous roles.

Handel’s Divas

Handel sought particular female singers – first in Italy and later in Britain – to embody the female roles in his operas and oratorios.

The London Handel Festival will pay tribute to Handel’s Divas, who played an important role in his choice of subject and the development of his musical style, by presenting performances of Handelian masterpieces and lesser-known works, oratorios, recitals and operas, walks and talks.

Highlights include programmes by London Early Opera and Early Opera Company focused on specific Handelian divas, including famous ‘Rival Queens’, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, and a new staging of Handel’s three-act opera, Berenice.

New co-production with Royal Opera House

Based on the story of Berenice, Queen of Egypt, Berenice premiered at the Royal Opera House (then known as the Covent Garden Theatre) on 18 May 1737 but was unsuccessful, with just three further performances.

A new co-production between the London Handel Festival and the Royal Opera House will be directed by Adele Thomas and conducted by Laurence Cummings, Musical Director of the London Handel Festival.

Berenice is one of the two main shows inaugurating the new Linbury Studio Theatre, which announced its 2019 programme in September 2018 after two years of building works as part of a major redesign.

Festival Prelude

Before the main Festival begins, a Festival Prelude will include:

  • performances of Alcina with La Nuova Musica and Messiah with conductor, Simon Williams, the Choir of St George’s Hanover Square, the London Handel Orchestra and soloists, Arianna Vendittelli, Marcjanna Myrlak, William Wallace and James Newby
  • a discussion on divas with leading voice experts

London Handel Festival events

Other major Festival events include:

  • the Handel Singing Competition
  • performances of AthaliaVenceslao and Aci, Galatea & Polifemo
  • Handel Remixed, an evening of music by Handel and his contemporaries, featuring a version of Dixit Dominus reimagined for live performers and DJ by Nico Bentley and the Pencil Collective

‘Amazing role models’

Samir Savant, Festival Director of the London Handel Festival, said:

‘It is impossible to enjoy Handel’s music without thinking of the great women who were his inspiration and whose careers he nurtured – his ‘divas’. The 2019 London Handel Festival will explore the lives of these women, who were amazing role models in their day, attracting devoted fans and huge fame but often with complicated personal stories behind their public acclaim.

‘Our rich variety of performances will showcase many of the roles Handel wrote for his divas and we are thrilled to be making our debut at the Royal Opera House as part of their Linbury Studio season with Berenice, which has not been performed there since Handel’s day.’

Sarah Crabtree, Creative Producer for the Royal Opera House, said:

‘The Royal Opera House has a rich history of staging Handel’s music, with a number of the composer’s operas and oratorios having premiered on this site at the first Covent Garden Theatre, including Berenice.

‘It is fitting that the opening season of the new Linbury Theatre includes a collaboration with the London Handel Festival and I very much look forward to welcoming Laurence Cummings and the musicians of the London Handel Orchestra to the Royal Opera House.’


Header photo: Sparks fly in a new production of Berenice, pitting two of Handel’s Divas against princes and each other in a battle of love and politics © Royal Opera House

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