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Handel and the Divas - Handel House Museum

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION that looks at the lives and careers of the women who brought Handel’s operas and oratorios to life, Handel and the Divas, will be on display at the Handel House Museum from April 30 to November 16, 2008.

Handel and the Divas, which will include portraits, scores, objects, and the music the women sang, will explore the arrival of the Italian singers who travelled to London to join his company.

From the career-defining success of Margherita Durastanti as Handel’s first Agrippina, to the on-stage battle between Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni (‘The Rival Queens’) that led to audience riots when they performed together, the exhibition will show the important role these women played in Handel’s choice of subject and the development of his musical style.

Later in his career, with the public appetite for Italian Opera waning, Handel turned to a group of British singing actresses to embody the female roles in his hugely successful oratorios. Susannah Cibber, recovering from a sensational London scandal by avoiding the public eye in Dublin when Handel arrived to premiere Messiah, was the first to sing He was despised.

A year later she was back on the stage of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, her indiscretion forgiven if not forgotten. One of her Theatre Royal co-stars, Kitty Clive already had a flourishing career as an actress when Handel selected her to create the role of Delilah in Samson.

These were the first great Opera Divas. Each has her own unique and fascinating tale to tell, illuminating the life and times of an 18th-Century prima donna, her loves and scandals, rivalries and collaborations, successes and failures. Uniting them all is the sublime music Handel wrote for them, which continues to provide inspiration and delight to audiences and divas alike.

The exhibition will bring together loans from the British Museum, the Garrick Club and other important 18th-century collections. It will be accompanied by a diverse and exciting programme of live music events, exploring the repertoire created by Handel and his Divas.

The Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4HB.