List of operas by George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel's operas comprise 42 musical dramas that were written between 1705 and 1741 in various genres. He began composing operas in Germany and then for a brief time in Italy to modest success. It was not until he moved to England that he found great success in the genre. His first opera in England, Rinaldo (1711), was met with enthusiasm, and several more Italian operas soon followed. However, Handel's place as the central figure of opera in England during the eighteenth century was not solidified until, under the influence of Thomas Arne, he began composing large-scale works with English language texts. Though almost all his English language works are technically oratorios and not operas, several of them, such as Semele (1743), have become an important part of the opera repertoire. Handel's first opera (opera seria - serious Italian opera) was Almira (1705).


Handel's earlier operas tended to be of a lighter nature, although there are intermittent moments, such as the prison scene from Almira (1705), which are highly dramatic. Handel's music for his first operas in England was often derived from musical ideas and idioms found in his cantatas and other works written during his time spent in Italy (1706–09). For example, the characteristic harmonic structure of Agrippina (1709) is obviously a retention of material from this Italian period. In general, the orchestrations of Handel's earlier operas tended to be richer and smoother than in his later works, utilizing additional instruments like bassoons to achieve different tone colours. The music for Rinaldo (1711) notably used four trumpets, an instrumental choice that Handel never repeated elsewhere.

Beginning with Ottone (1722), Handel composed numerous operas for the Royal Academy of Music during the 1720s. With the exception of Flavio (1723), the operas from this period are more serious in tone and the musical expression is more astutely aligned to the opera's drama than in his earlier operas. Of particular importance from this period is Giulio Cesare (1724), which contains one of Handel's most expansive and emotively powerful scores. The sumptuous music and deft characterizations found in this work has made it one of the more frequently revived Handel operas during the 20th and 21st centuries. Also of note are Tamerlano (1724) and Rodelinda (1725) which have particularly striking leading tenor roles that Handel wrote specifically for Francesco Borosini. The later operas that Handel wrote for the Academy were not as successful as his earlier ones. The two major sopranos at the Academy, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, were intensely competitive, and Handel had to cater to them both equally in these latter Academy operas. With the exception of Admeto (1727), the attempt at balancing two leading soprano roles within an individual opera proved to hinder the work both musically and dramatically.

During the 1730s, Handel returned to writing operas of a comic and fantastic or heroic nature, largely because he no longer had to cater to the tastes of the Academy when choosing librettos. These works, such as Partenope (1730), Orlando (1733) and Alcina (1735), were influenced by the operas of Leonardo Vinci and Leonardo Leo and are written in a pre-classical manner. During this period, Handel began to more frequently utilize the scena in his works, and by the mid-1730s he was writing some of his most dramatically moving arias, such as the mad scene of Orlando and the end of Act 2 of Alcina. The size of the orchestras for these works was also larger, with Handel typically employing 12 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses, and two harpsichords in addition to four bassoons and a number of other wind instruments. In operas like Oreste (1734), Handel attempted to synthesize Italian opera with French opera in the sequences of dances and choruses, but made no further experimentation in this area outside of the operas of 1734 and 1735. Two of the operas from this period, Ariodante (1735) and Atalanta (1736), were a departure from the traditionally heroic librettos used by Handel, adopting a more realistic romantic intimacy.

By the late 1730s, Handel's attention was increasingly diverted away from composing operas and was much more focused on the English oratorio. A number of his operas from 1737 on lack the brilliance of his earlier works, most likely due to this shift in focus. Nevertheless, his operas Giustino (1737) and Serse (1738) contain some very fine music. Serse is also notable for successfully mixing comedy and poignant tragedy into a masterfully crafted plot, a development repeated less successfully in Imeneo (1740). Handel's last Italian opera, Deidamia, was produced in 1741 and was not received very well as England's taste for Italian opera had waned. Handel returned one more time to theatre music for the semi-opera Alceste in 1750.

List of works

The following is a complete list of Handel's operatic works. All are opera seria in three acts, unless otherwise stated.

HWVTitleLibrettoPremière datePremière place, theatreModern revivalNotes
1Almira (Der in Krohnen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder: Almira, Königin von Castilien)Friedrich Christian Feustking, after Giulio Pancieri8 January 1705Hamburg, Oper am Gänsemarkt4 June 1994, Handel Festival, Bad LauchstädtSome music lost; announced as a Singspiel but has no spoken dialogue
2Nero (Die durch Blut und Mord erlangete Liebe)Friedrich Christian Feustking25 February 1705Hamburg, Oper am Gänsemarkt Music lost
3Florindo (Der beglückte Florindo)Hinrich HinschJanuary 1708Hamburg, Oper am Gänsemarkt Almost all of the music is lost
4Daphne (Die verwandelte Daphne)Hinrich HinschJanuary 1708Hamburg, Oper am Gänsemarkt A sequel to Florindo, intended to be performed on the day after it. Almost all of the music is lost
5Rodrigo (Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria)After Francesco Silvani's II duello d'Amore e di Vendetta
Italian libretto
c. November 1707Florence, Teatro di via del Cocomero1984, InnsbruckSome music is lost
6AgrippinaVincenzo Grimani26 December 1709, early 1710Venice, Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo1943, Halle 
7a/bRinaldoGiacomo Rossi/Aaron Hill, after Tasso, La Gerusalemme liberata
Italian libretto
24 February 1711London, Queen's TheatreJune 1954, Handel Festival, HalleHWV 7b is the 1731 revision; the libretto of a revision of 1717 also exists
8a/b/cIl pastor fidoGiacomo Rossi, after Giovanni Battista Guarini
8b Italian libretto, 8c Italian libretto
22 November 1712London, Queen's Theatre20 June 1948, Handel Festival Göttingen (third, November 1734 version); 14 September 1971, Abingdon, (first, 1712 version)HWV 8c designates the version of May 1734 and its November revival. The prologue Terpsicore added to the November 1734 revival is 8b.
9TeseoNicola Francesco Haym, after Philippe Quinault's libretto for Thésée
Italian libretto
10 January 1713London, Queen's Theatre29 June 1947, Handel Festival Göttingen5 acts
10SillaGiacomo Rossi, after Plutarch's Life of Sulla
Italian libretto
2 June 1713?London, Queen's Theatre? (or Burlington House?) Much of the music was re-used in Amadigi
11Amadigi di GaulaRossi or Haym (?), after Antoine Houdar de la Motte's Amadis de Grèce, 1699
Italian libretto
25 May 1715London, King's TheatreOsnabrück, 1929Various additions during the initial run and the revivals of 1716 and 1717
12a/bRadamistoHaym (?), after Domenico Lalli's L'amor tirannico, o Zenobia
Italian libretto
27 April 1720London, King’s Theatre27 June 1927, Handel Festival GöttingenLibrettos of the revised versions of December 1720 and 1728 exist
13Muzio ScevolaPaolo Antonio Rolli, after a reworking of a Nicolò Minato libretto by Silvio Stampiglia
Italian libretto
15 April 1721London, King’s Theatre1928, Essen (Act 3 only)only Act 3 is by Handel
14FloridanteRolli, after Francesco Silvani's La costanza in trionfo
Italian libretto
9 December 1721London, King’s Theatre10 May 1962, Unicorn Theatre, AbingdonRevised versions premiered in 1722, 1727 and 1733
15OttoneHaym, after Stefano Benedetto Pallavicino's libretto for Antonio Lotti's opera Teofane
Italian libretto
12 January 1723London, King’s Theatre5 July 1921, Handel Festival GöttingenRevised versions premiered in 1726 and 1733
16FlavioHaym, after M Noris's Il Flavio Cuniberto
Italian libretto
14 May 1723London, King’s Theatre2 July 1967, Handel Festival GöttingenThe libretto of the revised version of 1732 exists
17Giulio CesareHaym
Italian libretto
20 February 1724London, King’s Theatre1922, Handel Festival Göttingen 
18TamerlanoHaym, after Agostin Piovene and Nicholas Pradon
Italian libretto
31 October 1724London, King’s Theatre7 September 1924, Karlsruhe 
19RodelindaHaym, after Antonio Salvi, after Pierre Corneille's play Pertharite, roi des Lombards
Italian libretto
13 February 1725London, King’s Theatre26 June 1920, Handel Festival Göttingen 
Italian libretto
12 March 1726London, King’s Theatre1937, Handel Festival Göttingen 
21AlessandroO Mauro
Italian libretto
5 May 1726London, King’s Theatre1959, Stuttgart (in German) 
Italian libretto
31 January 1727London, King’s Theatre1964, Abingdon 
23Riccardo PrimoRolli, after Francesco Briani
Italian libretto
11 November 1727London, King’s Theatre8 July 1964, Sadler's Wells Theatre (Handel Opera Society), London 
24SiroeHaym, after Metastasio
Italian libretto
17 February 1728London, King’s TheatreDecember 1925, Gera 
25TolomeoHaym, adapted from Carlo Sigismondo Capece
Italian libretto
30 April 1728London, King’s Theatre19 June 1938, Handel Festival Göttingen 
26LotarioAfter Antonio Salvi
Italian libretto
2 December 1729London, King’s Theatre3 September 1975, Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames 
27PartenopeAfter Silvio Stampiglia
Italian libretto
24 February 1730London, King’s Theatre23 June 1935, Handel Festival Göttingen 
28PoroAfter Metastasio
Italian libretto
2 February 1731London, King’s Theatre1928, Braunschweig 
Italian libretto
15 January 1732London, King’s Theatre30 June 1926, Handel Festival Göttingen 
30SosarmeAfter Salvi
Italian libretto
15 February 1732London, King’s Theatre1970, AbingdonFirst draft, Fernando, Re Di Castiglia, revived in 2007 by Il Complesso Barocco
31OrlandoAfter Capece, after Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso
Italian libretto
27 January 1733London, King’s Theatre6 May 1959, Abingdon 
32Arianna in CretaAfter Pietro Pariati's Arianna e Teseo26 January 1734London, King’s Theatre  
A 11OresteAfter Giangualberto Barlocci18 December 1734London, Covent Garden Theatre1990, KarlsruhePasticcio
33AriodanteAfter Salvi, after Ariosto's Orlando Furioso
Italian libretto
8 January 1735London, Covent Garden Theatre  
34AlcinaAfter Ariosto's Orlando Furioso
Italian libretto
16 April 1735London, Covent Garden Theatre1928, Leipzig 
35AtalantaAfter Belisario Valeriani
Italian libretto
12 May 1736London, Covent Garden Theatre1970, Hintlesham Festival, Hintlesham 
36ArminioAfter Salvi
Italian libretto
12 January 1737London, Covent Garden Theatre23 February 1935, Leipzig (in German) 
37GiustinoAdapted from Pariati's Giustino, after Nicolo Beregan's Il Giustino
Italian libretto
16 February 1737London, Covent Garden Theatre21 April 1963, Abingdon 
38BereniceAfter Salvi18 May 1737London, Covent Garden Theatre  
39FaramondoAdapted from Apostolo Zeno's Faramondo
Italian libretto
3 January 1738London, King’s Theatre5 March 1976, Handel Festival, Halle 
A 13Alessandro SeveroAfter Apostolo Zeno25 February 1738London, King’s Theatre18 March 1997, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, LondonPasticcio
40SerseAfter Stampiglia
Italian libretto
15 April 1738London, King’s Theatre5 July 1924, Handel Festival GöttingenAlso known as Xerxes
A 14Giove in ArgoAntonio Maria Lucchini1 May 1739London, King’s Theatre15 September 2006, Markgräfliches Opernhaus, BayreuthPasticcio
41ImeneoAfter Stampiglia's Imeneo22 November 1740London, theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields13 March 1960, Handel Festival, Halle 
Italian libretto
10 January 1741London, theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields  
49Acis and GalateaJohn Gay, drawing on John Dryden's translation of "The Story of Acis, Polyphemus and Galatea" from Ovid's Metamorphoses1718Cannons, Little Stanmore Variously described as a serenata, a masque, a pastoral opera, a "little opera" (by the composer), an entertainment, and an oratorio

See also


  • Hicks, Anthony (1992), 'Handel, George Frideric' in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5
  • Some of the information in this article is taken from the related Dutch Wikipedia article.
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