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Radamisto, HWV12a
first performed at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London, on 27 April 1720
author of text
probably librettist; adapted from Domencio Lalli's L'amour tirannico, o Zenobia, itself based on Georges de Scudéry's L'amour tyrannique

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'Hyperion monthly sampler – September 2014' (HYP201409)
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Act 1. Arioso: Sommi dei (Polinessa)
Act 2 Scene 1. Aria: Quando mai, spietata sorte (Zenobia)
Act 3. Aria: Barbaro, partirò (Polinessa)

Radamisto, HWV12a
‘Since the introduction of Italian operas here our men are grown insensibly more and more effeminate, and whereas they used to go from a good comedy warmed by the fire of love and a good tragedy fired with the spirit of glory, they sit indolently and supine at an opera, and suffer their souls to be sung away by the voices of Italian sirens.’ Like many of his countrymen, the anonymous author of the pamphlet ‘Plain Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy’ abhorred the aristocratic craze for Italian opera seria in early eighteenth-century London. Igniting a toxic mix of homophobia, xenophobia and anti-Catholic paranoia, this decadent new import was branded a danger to manhood and empire. But the London beau monde remained oblivious. Fresh from his Italian sojourn, Handel had created a sensation with Rinaldo in 1711. Nine years later, Radamisto likewise triumphed at its premiere in the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 27 April 1720. Running for ten performances, it launched Handel’s most glittering period as an opera composer and confirmed London as the new operatic centre of Europe.

The previous year a group of noblemen had raised over £20,000 by subscription to set up the Royal Academy of Music. King George I himself pledged £1000 a year. Armed with a virtual blank cheque, Handel set off to recruit star singers on the Continent. His prize catch was the castrato Francesco Bernardi (known as Senesino), secured for the 1720–21 season: too late for the premiere of Radamisto, whose Anglo-Italian cast included the versatile Margherita Durastanti (who in Venice a decade earlier had been Handel’s first Agrippina) in the title role, and two English singers well versed in Italian opera, Ann Turner Robinson and Anastasia Robinson, as Prince Radamisto of Thrace’s sister Polissena and his wife Zenobia.

Opera librettos invariably did the rounds in the eighteenth century. The word-book of Radamisto (which Handel diplomatically dedicated to King George) is an adaptation, probably by the Royal Academy’s cellist/house poet Nicola Francesco Haym, of Domenico Lalli’s L’amor tirannico, o Zenobia, based in turn on the play L’amour tyrannique by Georges de Scudéry. The libretto distributed (in Italian and English) to the sharp-elbowed hordes at the King’s Theatre cites Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome as a source. But as usual in Baroque opera, ancient history is merely the pretext for a tale of lust, treachery, sadistic threats and heroic endurance in extremis. The only incident in the opera which corresponds to the Annals is the scene near the beginning of Act Two where a distraught Zenobia, lusted after by the treacherous Tiridate, King of Armenia (Radamisto’s brother-in-law), implores her husband Radamisto to kill her and then throws herself into the River Araxes. (She is subsequently rescued by Tiridate’s brother Fraarte.)

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2014

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