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Enticed to experiment with a freelance music career there, Handel left Venice and set out for London. In London, Handel met with the manager of the King’s Theatre. The manager gladly agreed to let Handel write an opera for the theater. Within just two weeks, Handel composed Rinaldo. Released during the 1710–1711 London opera season, Rinaldo was Handel’s breakthrough work. His most critically acclaimed work up to that date,
it gained him the widespread recognition he would maintain throughout the rest of his musical career.
After Handel released Rinaldo, he spent the next few years writing and performing for English royalty, including Queen Anne and King George I. In 1719, Handel was invited to become the Master of the Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music, the first Italian opera company in London. Handel eagerly accepted. He produced several operas with the Royal Academy of Music that, while well liked, were not especially lucrative for the struggling academy.
In 1726 Handel decided to make London his home permanently, and became a British citizen. In 1727, when Handel’s latest opera, Alessandro, was being performed, Italian opera in London took a hard hit as a result of a hostile rivalry between two female lead singers. Frustrated, Handel broke away from the Royal Academy and formed his own new company, calling it the New Royal Academy of Music. Under the New Royal Academy of Music, Handel produced two operas a year for the next decade, but Italian opera fell increasingly out of style in London. Handel composed two more Italian operas before he decided to abandon the failing genre.
In place of operas, oratorios became Handel’s new format of choice. Oratorios, large-scale concert pieces, immediately caught on with audiences and proved quite lucrative. The fact that oratorios didn’t require elaborate costumes and sets, as operas did, also meant that they cost far less to produce. Handel revised a number of Italian operas to fit the new format, translating them into English for the London audience. Handel’s oratorios became the latest craze in London and were soon made a regular feature of the opera season.
In 1735, during Lent alone, Handel produced over 14 concerts made up primarily of oratorios. In 1741 Dublin’s Lord Lieutenant commissioned Handel to write a new oratorio based on a biblical libretto assembled by art patron Charles Jennens. As a result, Handel’s most famous oratorio, The Messiah, made its debut at the New Music Hall in Dublin in April 1742.
Back in London, Handel organized a subscription season for 1743 that consisted exclusively of oratorios. The series opened with Handel’s composition Samson, to audience acclaim. Samson was eventually followed by a run of Handel’s beloved Messiah.
Handel continued to compose a long string of oratorios throughout the remainder of his life and career. These included: Semele (1744), Joseph and his Brethren (1744), Hercules (1745), Belshazzar (1745), Occasional Oratorio (1746), Judas Maccabeus (1747), Joshua (1748), Alexander Balus (1748), Susanna (1749), Solomon (1749), Theodora (1750), The Choice of Hercules (1751), Jeptha (1752) and The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757).
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