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English Opera Beginnings – The History



The London theatre remained a popular form of entertainment once the playhouses reopened following the Restoration in the 18th century. Music had become an increasingly common component of theatrical performances. It was from this tradition that the first English opera, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was born, followed by the migration of the German Baroque composer George F. Handel, with his oratorio masterpiece, Messiah.

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell, born in Westminster in 1659, was a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke in 1673. After six years, he succeeded his teacher, John Blow, as organist of Westminster Abbey. From this time on, he began writing music for the theatre as well as for royal occasions. According to legend, he died in 1695 after catching a fatal chill when his wife locked him out after returning home late from the theatre.

Purcell can rightfully lay claim to being the father of English opera, although some of his most famous work was not properly staged until long after his death.

The Semi-Operas

Purcell also composed other works described as semi-operas, those that included dialogues, dances, orchestral music and songs. Among his works that can be described in this category are The Fairy Queen, Dioclesian, The Indian Queen and King Arthur, a development of earlier court entertainments known as masques.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel, famous for ‘Messiah’ is the most successful opera composer of the 18th century London. Born in Saxony in 1685, he started his career as a church organist. Attracted to the theatre, he moved to Hamburg where the first public opera house outside Italy was opened in 1678. He then moved again to Italy in 1706, and there he became a very popular opera composer with Agrippina, his greatest success. Four years later, he took a position as court musician to the Elector of Hanover. Later the same year, he was granted permission to visit England. He loved the cultural atmosphere in London and decided to settle there.

Handel the Composer and Entrepreneur

With the royalty pension starting from Queen Anne in 1714, then George the Elector of Hanover, plus an additional pension from the Princess of Wales, Handel launched his own company. In the 1720s he went bankrupt, but through his well-placed contacts and reputation, raised an enormous amount to establish a new company. This also folded up in 1737. With the collapse of his opera ventures, Handel concentrated in composing oratorios. In 14 years, he composed more than twenty, including his immortal masterpiece Messiah.

George Frideric Handel’s Contribution

Handel produced some 50 operas, many of them recorded and performed onstage. He was responsible for great advances in combining brilliant vocal ornamentation with dramatically effective orchestral accompaniment. Giulio Cesare, said to be his finest opera, belongs to the standard opera repertory. More of Handel can be found below or on this website


It is interesting to mention the behavior of the audience at both plays and operas in 18th century England. During performances, audiences would chat, eat, and heckle singers or actors they did not like and cheer those they did. It’s a long way from the modern conventions today.

Who was George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel was a Baroque English composer and violinist of German origin. He is famous for oratorio “Messiah,” anthem “Zadok the Priest,” and “Water Music Suite” & “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” He was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann. Handel received wide acclaim during his lifetime. Messiah is the summation of his life’s work composed in a single burst of inspiration including some elements from earlier works.

Early Life of George Handel

Handel was born in Halle on February 23, 1685, the son of a barber-surgeon. His father wanted him to pursue law instead of music, but eventually he gave in by at least allowing his son to study under Zachau, the local organist at St. Michael’s Church. When Handel’s father died in 1703, he abandoned the study of law and became a violinist at Keiser’s Opera House in Hamburg. He completed the opera Almira (started by Keiser) and Nero.

Handel’s Italian Connection

When he visited Italy (706 to 1710), he was inspired by these travels through meetings with Archangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti that he was able to write a number of oratorios and operas to Italian styles of composition. His first opera Almira was performed in Hamburg. In 1710, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover Court.

England Forever, Handel’s Best Years

He settled in England in 1710, and was appointed Kapellmeister to the elector of Hanover (the future George I of England). In London, he performed the opera Rinaldo with huge success that he decided to move to England altogether, and composed the operas Il pastor fido, Sila and Amadigi using the same style.

Handel established his popularity further with such works as the Water Music Suite (1717) written for George I. The king gave him a life pension of six hundred pounds. The following year, he became musical director to the Duke of Chandos, as well as director of the Royal Academy of Music at the King’s. He wrote operas, solo sonatas, and suites for the harpsichord specifically for the Royal Academy of Music until the theatre closed in 1728.

He became a British subject in 1726. The following year, George II was crowned to the sound of four of Handel’s anthems including Zadok the Priest, which has been traditionally played at British coronations.

Handel’s choral works include the masterpiece English oratorio Messiah which was well received on its first performance in Dublin (1742) and the later oratorios Samson, (1743) Belshazzar, (1745) Judas Maccabaeus, (1747) and Jephtha (1752). His other works include the pastoral Acis and Galatea (1718) and a set of variations for harpsichord that were later nicknamed ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith.’

Last Years of Handel

In 1751 he became totally blind and died on April 14, 1759. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Handel’s Major Works:

Opera Rinaldo, 1711

Instrumental Water Music, 1717

Pastoral Opera Acis and Galatea, 1718

Opera Giulio Cesare (Julius Cesar), 1720

Coronation Anthem, Zadok the Priest, 1727

Opera Orlando, 1733

Opera Berenice including the famous ‘Minuet’, 1737

Opera Serse (Xerxes), including ‘Largo’, 1738

Oratorio Israel in Egypt, 1739

Oratorio Saul, 1739

12 Instrumental Concerti Grossi, 1740

Oratorio Messiah, 1741

Opera Semele, 1744

Oratorio Solomon including ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, 1749

Instrumental, Music for the Royal Fireworks 1749


7 Most Famous Greece Paintings




One of the best windows into a culture is through their art. Over the years, artist painting their own unique Greece painting featuring landscapes, mythology, and more. Each of these paintings captures an image of Greece throughout history by the skilled hand of a master artist.

1. Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi, Eugene Delacroix

With the Third Seige of Missolonghi reducing Greece to ruins in 1826, many citizens of the city attempted to stage an escape. The ensuing attempt was a failure, with most of the Greeks being killed by the invading Ottoman forces.

Romantic-era painter, Eugene Delacroix created a symbolic depiction of this event in 1826 with Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi. This work depicts Greece as a woman, kneeling with her arms slightly outstretched and her palms out and open. Below her, viewers can see the hand of a victim of the violence.

2. The Acropolis, 1843, Ippolito Caffi

In Athens, there is a citadel on a rocky outcrop known as The Acropolis or Acropolis of Athens. These ruins were once uniquely important and they were once known as Cecropia rather than Acropolis as they were named after the first Athenian king of myth, Cecrops. They even serve as the site of the Parthenon as well.

Ippolito Caffi committed the image to paper when he painted The Acropolis in 1843. Due to the time that passed, the site was in ruins when he carefully recreated it in painstaking detail. Either way, it remains a famous rendition of a crucial historical location.

3. Orpheus and Eurydice, Niccolo dell’Abate

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most tragic tales in Greek mythology. The cast includes Orpheus, a gifted musician and poet who was favored by the gods, and Eurydice, who was his wife. When she died young, Orpheus convinced Hades to let her go free and come back to the world of the living. There was only one condition: she would follow him out of the underworld and he couldn’t look back.

Niccolo dell’ Abbate caught the most tragic moments of this painting. Too excited to see his wife again, Orpheus looked back at Eurydice and, with the deal broken, she was immediately dragged back into the underworld.

4. Greek Women at the Fountain, 1841, Dominique Louis Papety

Paintings are great ways to create depictions of events that we’ve only heard about in writing. Dominique Louis Papety took the time to capture a moment that people today haven’t had the chance to see with technologies that are too modern such as photographs.

He showed a group of women at a fountain which was likely an everyday ritual in ancient times.

5. Prometheus Bound, 1610-11, Peter Paul Rubens

According to Greek mythology, Prometheus was one of the titans who fell because he defied the gods. He did this by stealing the concept of fire from them and introducing it to the humans, thus promoting the further development of culture among humans. He was considered a hero and champion to mankind even though he acted in defiance of the gods.

As punishment for his theft, as seen in this painting, Prometheus was bound to a rock by Zeus where his liver was eaten daily. This was because, at the time, the liver was considered the organ that held human emotion. Prometheus was later freed by Heracles.

6. Head of Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens

Another painting by Peter Paul Rubens, Head of Medusa captures one of the most well-known characters in Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Medusa is one of three Gorgons who are all women with snakes for hair. If someone were to look into Medusa’s eyes, they would turn to stone.

As per legend, the Greek hero Perseus beheaded Medusa and used her head as a weapon. Later on, he gave the head of Medusa to Athena, who turned Medusa into Gorgon, to put on her own shield as a weapon.

7. Lament for Icarus, Herbert James Draper

Icarus is another character from Greek mythology who is often used to represent the folly of man. In the myth, Icarus and his father Daedalus try to escape from Crete using wings that Daedalus made out of wax and feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus meets an untimely fate when he flies too close to the sun and burns up.

The painting by Herbert James Draper shows Icarus as he lays dead with mournful nymphs surrounding his body. He used the pattern of the bird-of-paradise to create a visual representation of Icarus’ wings.


When it comes to Greek-inspired art and even other culturally-inspired art, there is almost an endless supply of possibilities available. If these paintings are interesting, don’t be afraid to explore further. There are plenty of other paintings and artists out there that work with the same level of mastery and unique inspiration.

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