Handel: In the Playhouse

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Opella Nova
WORKS: Handel in the Playhouse: Ballad Operas
PERFORMER: Mary Bevan (soprano), Greg Tassell (tenor); L’Avventura London/Zak Ozmo


The brief but feisty life of English ballad opera began in 1728 when John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera delighted Londoners with its satirical wit, singable tunes and G&S-style parodies of that recent foreign import – Italian opera.

Quick to spot the new genre’s popularity was the novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding, who found it the perfect outlet for his caustic pen and earthy humour. Others writers followed suit, pillaging and transforming pre-existent music to articulate their plays. ‘The great Mr. Handel’ was an ever-popular source.

This innovative project couples Handel’s music with librettos by Gay, Fielding and some of their contemporaries to recreate this thoroughly English sound-world. The performances are fully in keeping with the nature of the genre:  hearty singing by Mary Bevan and Greg Tassell; robust instrumental playing by a small band of strings and winds. Close microphones put us in the front row of the stalls, so the words cut right through.


The result is a medley of popular ditties and foot-tapping instrumental numbers – movements from Handel’s solo sonatas and arrangements from Rinaldo and the Water Music – carried off with spirit. Kate Bolton