The beloved's image: Handel's Admeto and the statue of Alcestis

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Abstract

This essay offers a new interpretation of Handel's Admeto (1727) in the context of its literary and operatic antecedents. Focusing on the erotic triangle between the lover, the beloved, and the image of the beloved - a "fundamental story" expressed in its paradigmatic form in Euripides' play Alcestis - the essay demonstrates the unexpected ways in which Handel's opera - and its Venetian and Hannoverian predecessors - absorbed the residue of the Euripidean tradition, reconciling fundamental truths about lovers and their beloveds with early modern customs and ways of thinking about art, theater, and life. It takes account of the special importance that this libretto had for the Hannoverian dynasty (in particular Electress Sophia, consort of Ernst August, the father of George I), exploring as well how one of opera's most ubiquitous props - the portrait - reflected an early modern fascination with the power of simulacra to substitute for living beings. In this context, the oft-criticized conventions of Venetian opera that were retained by Handel - including not only the use of the portrait, but transvestism and a double-woman plot - emerge as part of a seicento sensibility that was not only embraced by the Venetians and the Hannoverians, but was integral to the dramatic vision expressed in Admeto. In so doing, the essay provides not only a new account of Admeto's rapport with the ancients, but also a more nuanced account of Handel's debt to the Venetian legacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-637
Number of pages79
JournalJournal of the American Musicological Society
Volume58
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music

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