Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential, superb, in-depth scholarship., 13 April 2013
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This review is from: Handel's Operas, 1704-1726 (Hardcover)
Unfortunately there is no 10 star option - this book should get it.

If you love/obessed with Handel and have an appetite for in-depth information, a deeper understanding of his operas, Handel's milieu and the way things happened this book and its companion on the later operas by one of the same authors are both essential.

The quality of scholarship is outstanding and multi-dimensional, almost on a par with the monumental standards set by Liddell & Scott's Greek Lexicon for instance. There is no evidence of jobbing generalist authors turning their attention to Handel, as so many modern works purporting to be scholarly seem to be, nor is there any evidence of some torturous well-nigh unreadable 'academic' theses with rather threadbare 'ideas' to flog.

With Dean & Knapp we get exhaustive information on each opera's performance history, the theatrical background, the borrowings, first lines indices for all arias and much more including general and specific analyses of structure, arias and so on.

The quality of mind or judgement bought to bear on the material is generous, informed, deeply considered, perceptive and as overwhelmed by Handel's genius as many of the rest of us. The writing is highly literate, easy and entertaining and at times betrays a dry ironical wit, probably not unlike Handel's himself - I like for instance the comment that Handel tended to doodle in 3/8 time - or indeed, in another mood, the openness with which Dean admits that it is hard to be measured when discussing 'ombra cara'.

Winton Dean originally produced a vast tome on the oratorios, equally impressive in depth and range as these operas volumes. At that time it seems Handel's operas were not considered equal in quality to his oratorio output. Dean subsequenlty changed his mind and wrote an account of his change of attitude to the operas in a book entitled 'Handel and the Opera Seria'.

Dean's 'Handel & the Opera Seria' contains some very interesting assessments and data, particularly on the early 20th century revivalist habits of transpositions and the inevitable pitfalls, and also on the roles of castrati, contraltos and counter-tenors as evidenced by Handel's original versions and his later revisions for revivals with different performers; this should make interesting reading for any who think that counter-tenors are the natural inheritors of Handel's primo uomo - and other - operatic roles, (unless of course one entertains the possibility that Handel got it wrong).

'Handel and the Opera Seria' precedes these 2 later volumes on the operas but unfortunately it seems to be out of print and very expensive to lay one's hands on. As some of the most authoritative writing on Handel this earlier book should be re-printed.

Above all, with these 2 latest volumes on Handel's operas, I think you get to know and appreciate Handel, his works and the world in which he worked - an excellent testimony to the readability of such a thorough piece of scholarship.
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