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Apollo e Dafne, HWV122

1710; Hanover
author of text
possible attribution, generally given as 'unattributed'; La terra è liberata

In 1703 George Frideric Handel left his native Halle and travelled to Hamburg where he scraped a living as a back-desk violinist at the Gänsemarkt opera house and gradually worked his way up through the ranks until his first opera Almira was premiered there in January 1705. By mid-1706, the twenty-one year old Handel had become fascinated by Italianate music and resolved to travel to Italy at his own expense. Probably arriving in Rome by Christmas 1706, he spent just over the next three years in Italy where he absorbed the influences of the most illustrious Italian composers, librettists and performers of the day. He pursued a successful freelance career writing spectacular church music and secular cantatas in Rome, a serenata for Naples, and operas for Florence and Venice. According to his first biographer, John Mainwaring, the climax to Handel’s Italian journey was the opera Agrippina, premiered on 26 December 1709 at the Teatro San Giovanni Gristostomo in Venice (now known as Teatro Malibran):

This opera drew over all the best singers from the other houses. Among the foremost of these was the famous Vittoria, who a little before Handel’s removal to Venice had obtained permission of the grand Duke to sing in one of the houses there. At Agrippina her inclinations gave new lustre to her talents. Handel seemed almost as great and majestic as Apollo, and it was far from the lady’s intention to be so cruel and obstinate as Daphne.

Mainwaring’s anecdotal account is confused and contradicted by documentary sources. Victoria Tarquini was the favourite soprano (and mistress) of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici in Florence, where she might have first met Handel in 1707 at around the time of his opera Rodrigo (in which she did not take part). She was not employed by any of Venice’s theatres during the 1709–10 carnival season, is not known to have travelled to the city, and is not mentioned in the cast list in the printed libretto of Agrippina. Nevertheless, Mainwaring’s analogy to the myth of (the god of music) Apollo’s ill-fated amorous pursuit of the beautiful but unrelenting nymph Daphne is an intriguing coincidence. Before Handel left Venice in early 1710, he had started setting to music the dramatic cantata La terra è liberata, known nowadays by its popular nickname Apollo e Dafne.

The anonymous libretto is based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses as retold by Petrarch in Canzoniere. Apollo has just defeated the monstrous Python and liberated the people of Delphi and the cantata commences with his arrogant boasting: he has delivered the earth from terror with his bow (‘Pende il ben dell’universo, da quest’arco salutar’); he brags that his skills as an archer are superior to Cupid’s, and that he can never be vanquished by any opponent (the flamboyant ‘Spezza l’arco e getta l’armi’). Cupid gains his revenge instantly when the blissful nymph Daphne enters the scene, singing her gorgeous aria ‘Felicissima quest’alma / ch’ama sol la libertà’ (accompanied by pizzicato strings and a murmuring solo oboe—the instrument is a distinctive feature in all three of her arias). Instantly smitten by her voice and beauty, the enraptured Apollo tries to seduce Daphne in vain; she rejects him resolutely, professing that she is devoted only to Apollo’s sister Diana (‘Ardi, adori, e preghi in vano’; this time the solo oboe conveys anguish). They are depicted at loggerheads in a scampering duet that shows their opposition intensifying (‘Una guerra ho dentro il seno’). Sensing his abject failure, Apollo tries another tactic, and speaks seductively (‘Come rosa in su la spina’), with gently rustling strings and rapturous cello obbligato, but she spurns him again in a plaintive lament (‘Come in ciel benigna stella’), an eloquent dialogue with oboe. Apollo’s melancholic lyricism and Daphne’s scornful irritation are astutely characterized in a confrontational duet (‘Deh! lascia addolcire’). Eventually, Apollo’s amorous failures lead inexorably to sexual frustration, and he runs after her with rapacious intent (‘Mie piante correte’—florid concertante violin and bassoon parts convey the sense of the chase)—but this is suddenly interrupted by his shocked reaction when Daphne escapes his pursuit by metamorphosing into a laurel tree. The guilty god is astonished, disappointed and chastened; he promises that from henceforth all heroes shall wear a crown of laurels in Daphne’s honour (‘Cara pianta’), with spellbinding trio passages for two oboes and bassoon.

Handel initially wrote the music on the same unusual paper-type that he had used in the autograph manuscript of Agrippina, which means that he must have taken the unfinished cantata with him to Hanover where the score was revised and the remainder of the music completed sometime later in 1710. A considerable amount of the finished score is written on a unique paper-type not evident in any of Handel’s other autograph manuscripts, but which has been identified in manuscripts prepared by a Hanover copyist for the electoral court library of operas by Agostino Steffani (the court Kapellmeister from 1688–1703).

from notes by David Vickers © 2016


Handel: Apollo e Dafne
Studio Master: CKD543Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Handel: Handel's Finest Arias for Base Voice
Studio Master: CDA67842Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


No 01. Recitativo: La terra e liberata! (Apollo)
Track 9 on CKD543 [0'44] Download only
No 02. Aria: Pende il ben dell’universo (Apollo)
Track 10 on CKD543 [3'51] Download only
No 03. Recitativo: Ch’il superbetto Amore (Apollo)
Track 11 on CKD543 [0'30] Download only
No 04. Aria: Spezza l’arco e getta l’armi (Apollo)
Track 12 on CKD543 [2'51] Download only
No 05. Aria: Felicissima quest’alma (Dafne)
Track 13 on CKD543 [6'05] Download only
No 06. Recitativo: Che voce! Che beltà! (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 14 on CKD543 [1'03] Download only
No 07. Aria: Ardi, adori, e preghi in vano (Dafne)
Track 15 on CKD543 [3'00] Download only
No 08. Recitativo: Che crudel! (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 16 on CKD543 [0'17] Download only
No 09. Duetto: Una guerra ho dentro il seno (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 17 on CKD543 [2'10] Download only
No 10. Recitativo: Placati ai fin, o cara (Apollo)
Track 18 on CKD543 [0'20] Download only
No 11. Aria: Come rosa in su la spina (Apollo)
Track 19 on CKD543 [2'52] Download only
No 12. Recitativo: Ah, ch’un dio non dovrebbe (Dafne)
Track 20 on CKD543 [0'21] Download only
No 13. Aria: Come in ciel benigna stella (Dafne)
Track 21 on CKD543 [3'44] Download only
No 14. Recitativo: Odi la mia ragion! (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 22 on CKD543 [0'25] Download only
No 15. Duetto: Deh! lascia addolcire quell’aspro rigor (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 23 on CKD543 [2'44] Download only
No 16. Recitativo: Sempre t’adorerò! (Apollo/Dafne)
Track 24 on CKD543 [0'21] Download only
No 17. Aria: Mie piante correte (Apollo)
Track 17 on CDA67842 [2'50]
Track 25 on CKD543 [3'05] Download only
No 18. Aria: Cara pianta (Apollo)
Track 18 on CDA67842 [7'27]
Track 26 on CKD543 [5'58] Download only

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