Performance | Handel & His Singers | Late Baroque | Opera
Handel was notoriously tough on singers who caused him problems. While rehearsing Flavio (1723), the tenor Alexander Gordon became exasperated with Handel’s method of continuo accompaniment, and threatened to jump on the composer’s harpsichord. It is said that Handel retorted ‘Oh! Let me know when you will do that, and I will advertise it. For I am sure more people will come to see you jump, than to hear you sing.’ Handel was required to discipline petulant singers who wanted to sacrifice the drama in order to have something flashier to sing. There is also the apocryphal tale of the soprano Cuzzoni refusing to sing the aria ‘Falsa imagine’ in Ottone (1722), perhaps because she did not care for its simplicity. Handel’s first biographer, John Mainwaring, reports that the outraged composer exclaimed, in French, ‘Madam, I know you are a veritable devil, but I would have you know that I am Beelzebub, chief of the Devils.’ Without warning, it is said that Handel grasped her around the waist and threatened to fling her out of the window.
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