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Musicologist prepares definitive modern edition of Handel’s Poro

Date:
December 10, 2014
Source:
University of Huddersfield
Summary:
Before turning to the choral compositions such as Messiah, for which he is best known today, a musicologist produced a string of Italian-language operas that vied for audiences in the fiercely-competitive theatre world of 1700s London.   
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Before turning to the choral compositions such as Messiah, for which he is best known today, George Frederic Handel produced a string of Italian-language operas that vied for audiences in the fiercely-competitive theatre world of 1700s London.

Now University of Huddersfield expert Dr Graham Cummings has completed the definitive modern edition of one of the composer's most successful operatic works. It forms part of an ambitious project -- involving leading scholars from around the world -- to publish all of Handel's music within the next ten years.

Preparing an edition of Poro, Re dell'Indie (Porus, King of the Indians) was a complex task because of the challenges that faced Handel when the opera was first produced. Between 1731-37, he prepared three different versions for performances at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, London, each responding to which singers were available.

"The first version was a real problem, because he didn't have a strong bass singer. So although there are three arias in the libretto for a bass, he just cut them out!" said Dr Cummings. "Ten months later he had a very fine Italian bass who had arrived in London, so Handel revised the opera, but so that he didn't have to write three new arias he borrowed music from operas he had already written in the 1720s."

For the final version, Handel needed to provide showcases for two star castrato singers who had come to London. Somewhat surprisingly, he responded to the singers' wishes by interpolating arias from their individual repertoires by Giovanni Ristori and Leonardo Vinci.

Original 18th century sources

Dr Cummings visited libraries in London, Cambridge and Hamburg to consult original 18th century sources of the opera, plus the manuscript score used by Handel when he directed the work, in order to compile an authoritative version of Poro. Along the way he had to learn how to compose recitatives in the style of Handel -- to fill in missing passages -- and also develop his knowledge of technical intricacies such as the composer's use of the oboe in his instrumental scoring.

The result is an edition of Poro, Re dell'Indie that is now published by the firm of Bärenreiter/Kassel. It is an important contribution to an international project that aims to produce an authoritative edition of all of Handel's vast musical output. The goal is to complete this by the year 2023, and the editorial board of the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe have been so impressed by Dr Cummings's contribution that he might be asked to take on more editing challenges, in order to help keep the ambitious project on schedule.

Dr Cummings was first attracted to the world of Handel operas when studying for his first music degree in the late 1960s. His involvement with Poro can be traced to his PhD research and in more recent years he has been a consultant for performances of the opera at Handel festivals in Germany -- including Halle, the city where Handel was born -- and in London.

He has recently retired from his post as Reader in Historical Musicology and University Organist, but Dr Cummings -- who has been based at the institution for 44 years -- has been awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship. He will continue his research into the world of Handel's operas, focussing on the 1730s and the intense competition that the composer faced from rival companies.

Baroque opera

Opera-going in Handel's time was a vastly different experience from today, said Dr Cummings.

"Audiences in the 18th century went to the theatre as a social event -- to meet friends, to dine, to play cards. They would carry on an affair by drawing the curtains across the box and only when there was music they wanted to hear would they pull the curtains back and listen to what was on the stage."

Today's audiences can find baroque opera a rewarding experience, in the view of Dr Cummings, but they need to accustom themselves to its conventions, such as the lengthy da capo arias delivered by the characters.

"Modern audiences have got to understand that the action in 18th century opera moves forward during the recitative scenes, but is often static in the arias; this contrasts with later dramas where the action is more continuous. But in each aria we learn something new about the character and their intentions, aspects which Handel projected so vividly through his music."


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Huddersfield. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Huddersfield. "Musicologist prepares definitive modern edition of Handel’s Poro." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 December 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141210100001.htm>.
University of Huddersfield. (2014, December 10). Musicologist prepares definitive modern edition of Handel’s Poro. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141210100001.htm
University of Huddersfield. "Musicologist prepares definitive modern edition of Handel’s Poro." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141210100001.htm (accessed April 19, 2024).

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