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Scandal in Scotland: Handel's 'Ariodante'

You'll find the word "cosmopolitan" in a wide variety of contexts, from biological descriptions of organisms that flourish in just about any locale, to the cover of a racy magazine.

Generally, though, it's applied to anything that crosses a lot boundaries — both physical and cultural. And when it comes to classical composers, few were as cosmopolitan as George Frideric Handel.

Just look at one of his most famous pieces, the oratorio Messiah. Unlike most works of European, classical vocal music, it's most often sung in English. And that's not because it was translated for English-speaking audiences. It was actually written in English, because Handel, though born in Germany, made his musical fame — along with a considerable fortune — during the many decades he spent in London.

Still, it wasn't English oratorios that truly put Handel on the musical map. Handel, who was born in German city of Halle, became a superstar in London by writing Italian operas. During the first few decades of the 1700s, Italian opera may have been London's hottest ticket, and Handel's operas were the most popular of them all.

Through much of the 1720s, and into the 30s, Handel basically ran his own opera company — with support from wealthy subscribers, and from England's King George I. Performances took place at the King's Theater.

By late 1734, things had changed. There was a new George on the throne, Handel's agreement to use the theater had expired, and he was muscled out by a rival company. Fortunately, he had an alternative venue — a brand new theater in a place that's now synonymous with opera in London: Covent Garden.

The first new opera Handel presented at Covent Garden was also one of his finest. It's called Ariodante — an Italian opera, written by a German composer for a London premiere, and set in Scotland. On World of Opera, the drama is heard in a performance featuring some of the world's finest Handel singers, including mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role, along with sopranos Patricia Petibon and Amanda Forsythe. The production is from the Grand Theatre of Geneva.

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