Notes 62.4 (2006) 1054-1058
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George Frideric Handel's Lotario (first performed at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, on 2 December 1729) was the first opera seria given in London after the collapse of the Royal Academy of Music in 1728. It was a new beginning with new singers, with a new poet and with changed contractual conditions. The advent of the "ballad operas" had influenced fashions. In Michael Pacholke's introduction to his edition of this opera for the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (presented in German and an English translation by Terence Best), the situation of Lotario is aptly characterized on the basis of contemporaneous comments (pp. xii–xiii). Thus Mary Pendarves wrote on 20 December 1729: "The opera is too good for the vile taste of the town.... it will put people upon making comparisons between these singers and those that performed before, which will be a disadvantage among the ill-judging multitude. The present opera is disliked because it is too much studied, and they love nothing but minuets and ballads, in short the Beggar's Opera and Hurlothrumbo are only worthy of applause" (p. xiii).
In the opposing camp, the ex-secretary of the Royal Academy of Music, Paolo Rolli, also commented (11 December) on the past and present singing cast and negatively compared Anna Maria Strada del Pò (Adelaide) with Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. He praised only contralto Antonia Merighi (Matilde) and tenor Annibale Pio Fabri (Berengario), and the costumes provided by John James Heidegger (quoted in Italian and English translation on pp. xii– xiii). While making lecherous and rude remarks, respectively, about the trouser role Idelberto (Francesca Bertolli) and the bass Johann Gottfiried Riemschneider (Clodomiro), he observed complete silence about the new primo uomo Antonio Bernacchi (Lotario), who had replaced Francesco Bernardi detto Senesino. Rolli had already noted on 3 September 1729 that "the famous [Giacomo] Rossi" (p. xiii) now was Handel's Italian poet. Too many irksome innovations! But Rolli conceded that some patrons liked Strada better than the two former prime donne,according to a judgment from "on High" (ab Alto—curiously interpreted by Pacholke as meaning Handel). He was particularly incensed by the fact that the model for Lotario, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini's Adelaide, had only been performed earlier that same year during carnival in Venice with Senesino—and with Faustina, who sang the title role and acted as coproducer. Handel had visited Venice at this time and probably heard Adelaide; the only manuscript of the opera surviving today (a presentation score later owned by William Savage, now in the library of London's Royal Academy of Music) may have been made for the opera's dedicatee, James Hamilton, Viscount Limerick, a director of the Royal Academy and later of the "Opera of the Nobility." Handel probably used a score of the work for his pasticcio Ormisda in 1730. Lotario certainly entered a polarized field of tastes and emotions about opera in London: the foundations for the rivalry of 1733 were being laid here.
The libretto of Lotario,closely modeled after the Venetian Adelaide, goes back to Adelaide by Antonio Salvi (1722), the penultimate dramma per musica by Handel's preferred...