Ars Lyrica Houston Brings ‘Magical’ Händel Opera to Life for Local Premiere

By David Salazar

Amadigi di Gaula” tells the fairy tale story of the eponymous 14th-century knight who is betrayed by his friend Dardano when the two realize that they have both fallen in love with Oriana. Meanwhile, the sorceress Melissa aims to stop Amadigi from being reunited with his beloved. Dardano makes a pact with Melissa to appear like Amadigi when he meets with Oriana, but that only leads to a duel when the real Amadigi appears. Dardano ends up dead and Melissa ends up attempting to kill Oriana, only to see her magic restrained by the Gods. She forces herself and the two lovers live happily ever after.

The work premiered to great success in London on May 25, 1715, prompting several performances and revisions over the ensuing three seasons. From there it would play in Hamburg for another three years.

And then…

It was gone. For over 200 years, the opera disappeared altogether.

It would have to wait for its revival until 1929 in Osnabrück followed by another performance in England in 1968 by Unicorn Opera. And with Händel and baroque opera getting a revival over the past few decades, the opera’s return grew with performances in Colorado, Göttingen, Chicago, and Paris, among other cities.

And now it’s headed to Houston where Ars Lyrica Houston will give the work its local premiere this May.

“We’re delighted to be the first to share this gorgeous Handel opera with Houston audiences, who are in for a rare treat,” Ars Lyrica Houston Music Director and conductor Matthew Dirst told OperaWire. “Händel knew instinctively, it seems, how to depict human emotions in music with great depth and range. That’s why his operas and oratorios are still such a central part of our musical culture: they have the power to move us deeply.”

Rehearsals are already underway for the production with Dirst leading a cast that stars Randall Scotting as Amadigi, Nicholas Garza as Dardano, Raven McMillon as Melissa, and Nola Richardson as Oriana.

“Being a part of this Houston premiere is special because it really shows how important the work we are doing is to the community, in making sure that these stories live on well past their inception,” Garza told OperaWire about his experience with the production thus far.

“We’re only a few days into staging rehearsals but it’s already really coming together,” added Scotting. “The concept is one that I think will work well and be interesting and satisfying for audiences, and everybody is really top-notch. It’s going to be a great show, something really special for Houston audiences.”

Leading the group will be director Tara Faircloth whose aim with the production is to “capture the magic of this enchanted island and showcases sumptuously costumed characters with stunning visuals that guide us through the story, while our singers explore the emotional beauty of this rarely-performed work.”

“Both stage director Tara Faircloth and music director Matthew Dirst are wonderfully collaborative artists and it feels like we are each able to follow our own instincts and explore as we create this piece,” noted Richardson.

Despite being one of the less-recognized Händel operas, Dirst asserted that it has truly unique qualities that allow it to stand with the best of the renowned composer’s work.

“Händel provided all four characters in this opera with music that is by turns brilliant and poignant, reminding us that even ‘bad guys’ have feelings very much like our own,” the conductor stated.

Scotting added, “One of the greatest strengths Händel had as a composer was his ability to join music and drama. He just had a great sense of how to bring emotional situations to life and to give a very full depiction of these characters. For example, the ‘bad guys’ often have not only the rageful and high energy arias we expect, but also deeply moving emotional laments that show the full torment they are undergoing as people… the bigger reasons why they ultimately lash-out. It’s so much fun to sing his music for that reason!”

“I always love singing Händel because the music contains every nuance of emotion through each turn of a phrase. There is so much room for personal interpretation and experimentation,” Richardson concluded about her experience with Händel’s music.

“Amadigi di Gaula” will take the stage of Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center for Performing Arts May 24 and 25, 2024. Both performances kick off at 7:30 p.m. with the latter showcase featuring live concert broadcast.