Laurence Cummings has been the director of the Handel Festival since 1999 and the annual event has gained a reputation for adventurous programming and supporting young singers. We asked him what to expect from this year’s festival, taking place 11 March – 16 April.
What do you think are the highlights of the 2013 festival?
We open and close with two great, big works. We’re opening with Imeneo and we close with L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato – they’re both from the same year, which was the thinking behind the programming. Both in their different ways deal with a conundrum: in Imeneo the main female character, Rosmene has to choose between beauty and love. And L’Allegro invites us to choose between the lively and the throughtful one. Those two works bookend the festival – and there are some wonderful treats in between as well.
Imeneo is rarely performed – do you deliberately programme things which don’t get attention elsewhere?
It’s very rarely performed – I don’t think it’s been staged in London for about 30 years and it’s not a long opera. It’s full of beautiful music and very concise story-telling. We do try and programme the operas that no one else does because there are so many great operas by Handel. We’re fortunate that we have a very loyal audience so we can take some repertoire risks which maybe the bigger opera companies would be reluctant to do.
You also have a lot of young singers taking part in the festival. How did that come about?
It takes over the work that Denys Darlow started when he founded the festival. He always encouraged young singers and gave them a platform – singers such as Janet Baker, Thomas Allen and Emma Kirkby. We’ve taken that a stage further with the Handel Singing Competition and trying to nurture the people who’ve got through to the final the following year, to highlight their work.
Is it a challenge to make each festival feel fresh with the focus each year on the same composer?
When I start to think about it I always think it’s a challenge and then as soon as I get going it’s a joy.
What one thing are you most looking forward to about this year’s festival?
I think for me the highlight will be L’Allegro because it’s one of my all-time favourite Handel works. It essentially tries to sum up how we should live our lives, but in a non-religious way. It acknowledges that there are moments when we have to be full of animation and others when we have to be thoughtful and considerate but that the true path is to live with certainty and a feeling of goodness. I think Handel felt that very strongly and wrote these works in order for people to come and experience them and to become better people through them.
The London Handel Festival runs until 16 April 2013