The London Handel Festival (LHF) returns for its 42nd year, presenting a series of performances across the capital from 5 March-10 April. The theme this year is ‘Handel and the Hanovarians’, exploring the links between the composer and the reigning monarchy of the time, to whom Handel dedicated much of his music and whose patronage he enjoyed.
George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685; however, he settled in London in 1712 and spent most of his professional life in Great Britain, where he was very popular at the court of the Hanovarian monarchs, King George I and King George II.
The 2020 LHF will present five weeks of concerts and performances at diverse venues across London, celebrating the Baroque composer’s relationship with the Hanovarian nobility. In addition to performances of Handelian masterpieces, the festival will also include chamber music recitals, lunchtime concerts, guided walks, insight talks and the popular ‘come and sing’ event.
Samir Savant, the festival’s director, commented: “I am delighted to present our 2020 season ‘Handel and the Hanoverians’. This will explore the rich variety of compositional output Handel dedicated to his royal patrons, and furthermore his adept diplomacy in maintaining good relations with the feuding generations of the royal family at the time.”
A highlight of the festival will be a new staging of Handel’s oratorio Susanna (1749) at the Royal Opera House’s newly refurbished Linbury Theatre. The production is directed by Isabelle Kettle, a 2019-20 Jette Parker Young Artist (JPYA), and is conducted by 2018-19 JPYA Patrick Milne, making his Linbury Theatre conducting debut.
The production stars members and Link Artists from the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. South African soprano Masabene Cecilia Rangwanasha sings the title role, performing alongside American countertenor Patrick Terry, second prize winner of the 2019 Handel Singing Competition. This represents the first performance of Susanna at Covent Garden since its premiere there in 1749.
Performing at the London Handel Festival for the first time is the Academy of Ancient Music, presenting ‘Handel’s Heroines’ with British sopranos Mary Bevan and Jennifer France, conducted by LHF Musical Director Laurence Cummings. The concert, which features arias from some of Handel’s best-loved operas and oratorios including Ariodante (1735), Rinaldo (1711) and Semele (1744), takes place at the Barbican’s Milton Court Concert Hall, a new venue for the festival.
Handel’s Serse is one of his lesser-known operas, having disappeared from the stage for almost 200 years. Christian Curnyn returns to the festival with the Early Opera Company to perform this work at St John’s Smith Square with soloists Anna Stéphany, Mary Bevan, Anna Devin, Edward Grint, Hilary Summers, Callum Thorpe and Patrick Terry.
Opera Settecento will perform Fernando, conducted by Leo Duarte with soloists Owen Willetts, Raphaela Papadakis, Jorge Navarro Colorado, Helen Charlston, Jess Dandy, David Greco and Hamish McLaren.
With this opera, Handel set to music a story about a power struggle between the Portuguese King Dionisio and his son Alfonso. However, the portrayal of a father-son conflict in the ruling house had parallels to the English situation at the time so Handel relocated the plot to an innocuous eastern milieu and changed the name of almost all of the characters, completing the work as Sosarme, Re di Media (Sosarmes, King of Media, 1732).
The opera in its original format as Fernando, Re di Castiglia has never been performed in its entirety, and the festival will present its premiere in London at St George’s, Hanover Square, Handel’s own church, in collaboration with the Halle Handel Festival, using a new critical edition.
A hugely popular feature of the festival is the Handel Singing Competition. Now in its 19th year, this annual contest continues Handel’s tradition of nurturing young talent and attracts applicants from all over the world. The first prize is £5,000, with a second prize of £2,000, and all finalists are guaranteed recitals in the 2021 London Handel Festival. Many past finalists are also asked to perform solos during the festival, as well as in other concerts and recitals both in the UK and abroad.
The 2020 festival culminates in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion (1727) at St George’s, Hanover Square, a work the festival has performed annually for many years. The sacred oratorio is sung in German as part of the Good Friday Vespers service, providing a rare opportunity for audiences to experience the work in its original liturgical context. The London Handel Orchestra and Laurence Cummings are joined by soloists Alexandra Gibson, Nathan Vale, Anna Devin and George Humphreys and the Choir of St George’s.
There is also a programme of lunchtime concerts, recitals by former Handel Singing Competition finalists, musical walks, chamber music and more. Tickets are on sale now.
This year’s London Handel Festival explores the relationship between the London-based composer and the ruling House of Hanover.