In 1677 the first German opera house had be established in Hamburg Germany. Shortly after its opening in 1678 Hamburg became the center to all opera in Germany (Oxford 304). However, it took almost another twenty years for the German Baroque opera to take another step forward. Reinhard Keiser was born just a year after Jupiter and Jo was produced in Saxony and he become “the” operatic composer and producer of his time. He wrote over one hundred operas in his sixty-five years of living, three of which had been completed by the age of twenty, and his first ever being Basilius (“Composers” 198).
In 1696 Keiser followed his mentor to Hamburg where he became part of the renowned opera house. Immediately he got to work, and within that year he had Mahumeth II produced in that theater. Reinhard Keiser, although considered a second-rate composer in the twenty-first century, was praised by many for his work. He pushed German music further away from the styles of Italy. Instead of using typical Italian melodies and songs that were based on Greek mythology, Keiser leaned towards German folk lore and history. Additionally, his orchestration was unsurpassable for years to come (“Composers” 198). Keiser demanded much more from his performers than previous composers had. His music was much more difficult and required great feats of virtuosity (Oxford 309). Reinhard also had the ability to create genuine moods that reflected human emotions throughout his operas. Not only could he create them but he had a profound ability to sustain these moods when necessary, a feat that was not easy to accomplish (312). The boundaries were pushed once again.
During this time Handel join Hamburg’s opera orchestra as a violinist in 1703. There he wrote his first opera Almira in 1705 (“Encyclopedia” 292). The libretto from which it was based was written by Friedrich Christian Feustking and derived from the Venetian libretto by Guilio Pancieri (Hogwood 26). It’s a three act opera that was primarily sung in German with few Italian arias and a single aria that was sung in both German and Italian. The Opera involved dance as well, including ballet, a saraband and chaconne which had brought all three parts of the opera together again. Almira was an instant success. It ran for twenty nights after its opening (Hogwood 26, 27; “Encyclopedia” 23). Despite the success, the opera took much criticism for its text by Feustking (Hogwood 26).
After his success with Almira, Handel proceeded to write another opera called Nero (Weisstein 62). The libretto was provided by that same author that had written Almira. Nero was not as big of a success. It was preformed for but only three nights. Since then the music to this piece and the next has been lost. Fortunately enough, a libretto of good quality has been preserved. The cast seems to be even larger than that of Almira and with more ballet present. This time, however, Handel himself is quoted for the criticism of his own opera for the same reason in the prior. “How is a musician to create anything beautiful if he has no beautiful words? …There is no spirit in the verse, and one feels vexation in setting such to music.” Again Handel began working on another opera while in Hamburg. As stated above the music for this one has been lost too. What little remains of this opera is hardly positive. Mattheson, a friend of Handel, is reported to have complained about it being “too long-winded” (Hogwood 27, 28).
Alle, John Gage, Ed. Webster’s Dictionary. Owings Mills: The Literary Press. 1997.
Ewen, David. The New Encyclopedia of the Opera. New York: Hill and Wang. 1971.
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Hogwood, Chistopher. Handel. Great Britain: The Pitman Press. 1984
Oxford University Press. Opera and Curch Music 1630-1750. The New Oxford History of Music Ser. 5. New York: Lewis & Fortune, 1975.
Weisstein, Ulrich, ed. The Essence of Opera. London: The Free Press of Glencoe. 1964.