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Work data
Original title: Teseo
Title page of the Libretto by Teseo, London 1713

Title page of the Libretto by
Teseo, London 1713

Shape: Opera seria
Original language: Italian
Music: georg Friedrich Handel
Libretto : Nicola Francesco Haym
Literary source: Philippe Quinault , Thésée (1675)
Premiere: January 10, 1713
Place of premiere: Queen's Theater , Haymarket, London
Playing time: 2 ½ hours
Place and time of the action: Thebes , in ancient, mythical times
  • Teseo (soprano)
  • Agilea , his beloved (soprano)
  • Egeo , King of Athens ( old )
  • Medea , his fiancee ( soprano )
  • Clizia, mistress of Arcane (soprano)
  • Arcane, a vassal of the king (old)
  • Minister of Minerva , ( bass ) originally soprano
  • Fedra , Medea's companion (soprano)
  • Goddess Athena (mute)
  • Court, warriors, guards, people

Teseo ( HWV 9) is an opera (Dramma tragico) in five acts by Georg Friedrich Handel .


Teseo is Handel's third opera for London after Rinaldo and Il pastor fido . He began composing only a short time after the completion of Il pastor fido , but before its premiere. On December 19, 1712 he completed the score, as he noted in his autograph : “Fine del | Drama | GFH | à Londres | ce 19 de Decembr | 1712 " . The premiere took place on January 10, 1713 at the Queen's Theater .

Cast of the premiere:


The opera represents the first collaboration with the musician and poet Nicola Francesco Haym . For the libretto, he used a French model that Philippe Quinault had written for Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1675 : Thesée . The adoption of the structure of this tragédie lyrique meant that Teseo Handel is the only opera with five acts. Since Haym dedicated the libretto to the Earl of Burlington in the dedication preface he signed , it can be assumed that Handel also composed the opera in Burlington House, where he stayed several times between 1713 and 1715.

During the months of January and February 1713, Teseo mainly determined the repertoire of the Haymarket Theater , not least because of the new costumes, decorations and machines that had been specially made for this production. But while the opera was being played to a sold-out house, as the opera chronicle incorrectly attributed to Francis Colman reports on January 15, 1713, a serious crisis broke out behind the scenes:

“M r O. Swiny y e Manager of y e Theater was now setting out a new opera, Heroick. all y e Habits new & richer than y e former with 4 New Scenes, & other Decorations & Machines. y e Tragick Opera was called Theseus, y e musick composed by M r Hendel. Maestro di Capella di SAE D'Hannover. [...] y e Opera being thus prepared M r Swiny would have got a subscription for Six times, but could not. - he then did give out Tickets at half a Guinea each, for Two Nights y e Boxes lay'd open to y e Pit. y e House was very full these two nights […] after these Two nights M r Swiny Brakes & runs away & leaves y e Singers unpaid y e Scenes & Habits also unpaid for. The Singers were in some confusion but at last concluded to go on with y e opera's on their own accounts. & devide y e Gain amongst them. "

"Mr. O. Swiney , the theater director, was now planning a new opera, heroic, all costumes new and more splendid than the previous ones, with 4 new sets and other decorations and machines. The title of this tragic opera was Theseus. Handel had composed the music. Maestro di Capella di SAE D'Hannover. [...] After the opera was prepared in this way, Swiney wanted to sell subscriptions for six evenings, but he did not succeed. Then he sold his tickets for half a guinea each, for two evenings the boxes up to the ground floor were open to all spectators, the house was very well attended on those two evenings [...] After these two evenings Swiney left and left the singers behind without even paying for the sets and costumes. The singers got into some confusion, but finally decided to continue the operas independently and to distribute the profit among themselves. "

- Opera Register. London 1713.

After Swiney's flight to Italy with the proceeds of two performances, Johann Jacob Heidegger became commercial director of the Queen's Theater, which was very helpful in establishing his position as impresario in London: he would then remain a leading opera entrepreneur on the Thames for thirty years , between 1719 and 1728 as Handel's business partner in the function of director of the Royal Academy of Music .

Opera rehearsal at the Queen's Theater in London with the poet of Teseo Haym on the harpsichord

After 13 performances, the last performance during Handel's lifetime was on May 16, 1713, a benefit performance for the composer, who was again heard as a harpsichord soloist.

Teseo experienced her rebirth on June 29, 1947 at the Göttingen Handel Festival under the direction of Fritz Lehmann . The first performance of the piece in historical performance practice was seen in Boston (USA) on May 30, 1985 with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra under the direction of Nicholas McGegan .


Historical and literary background

The opera's mythological content follows the traditions of the tragédie lyrique. Unlike the Italian operas of the time, which preferred heroic and historical subjects, these subjects remained predominant in French opera until the Revolution. Quinault took the story of Theseus' biography from Plutarch's Bíoi parálleloi (Parallel Descriptions of Life) and the corresponding episode from Book 7 of Ovid's Metamorphoses . Plutarch himself refers to a tradition according to which Theseus separated from Ariadne in Naxos because, on the one hand, she was promised to Dionysus in Olympus , and, on the other hand, because Theseus fell in love with Aigle , the daughter of Panopeus .

first act

Agilea loves Teseo and is concerned with her confidante about the fate of the hero who went to battle with the Athenians. Arcane loves Clizia, who promises to reward his love soon. The fortunes of war are on the Athenians' side: King Egeo, who swore to make the sorceress Medea his wife, announces that Agilea is to become queen. The desperate Agilea confesses her love for Teseo and her commitment to a royal lot.

Second act

In the palace, Medea sings about her misfortune: the god of love lets her find no rest in life. Enter Egeo with his entourage. He reveals to Medea that after a long delay of their mutual marriage, he has chosen his son to be her husband. Arcane points out to the king that Teseo, who would return home crowned with glory of victory, could contest him for the throne. The celebrated hero Teseo is preparing to pay the ruler a visit. Medea warns him: Egeo suspects him of treason. Only she could calm the king's anger. Teseo puts his fate in the hands of the sorceress: when she is alone, she sings about her jealousy and hatred.

Third act

Arcane asks the king for the hand of Clizia. Agilea's maid reports the arrival of Teseo to her mistress. The hero appears and sings about the happiness of seeing his beloved again. But the Arcane sent by the king announces the imminent marriage of Agileas and Egeos. Medea arrives and threatens the young girl. Through magic she transforms the stage into a terrible desert populated by monsters. The demons kidnap Agilea.

Fourth act

Arcane teaches the king of Medea's evil spell. Egeo vows to take revenge. Medea urges Agilea to submit to the king's wish, but she would rather suffer death than renounce her love. Medea then has Teseo, who has fallen into a deep sleep, brought in by ghosts and decides that the hero should rather die than belong to her rival. Agilea surrenders: she wants to extend her hand to the king to save her lover. Medea orders the demons to retreat and transforms the stage into a magic island. She touches Teseo with her wand, who hears from Agilea's mouth that her love for him has expired, but her tears reveal her true feelings. The sorceress reappears: evidently moved by Teseo's deep affection for Agilea, she announces her intention to make him, whom she loves, happy while the two lovers sing about their happiness.

Fifth act

Tormented by jealousy, Medea seeks revenge: she is determined to kill Teseo and gives the king a cup of poison. The two fiancés appear, accompanied by the wedding procession. The king agrees to forget all quarrels and to drink to the reconciliation. Before Teseo lifts the cup to his mouth, he swears allegiance and devotion to the king by his sword. He recognizes in the sword the weapon that he had once given his son as a distinguishing mark. He snatches the cup from Teseo's hand and confesses the crime he was about to commit. Medea flees. The king seals the union of the two lovers and also gives Clizia and Arcane his blessing. Medea appears on a carriage covered with dragons and prepares to set the palace on fire. But Minerva's intervention saves those present from the flames. The final choir sings of the regained harmony.


The music for Teseo has only survived as an autograph in fragments. Fortunately, there is a copy in the Barrett Lennard Collection that Handel used for the performances.

The Queen's (from 1714 King's) Theater on Haymarket in London, Handel's artistic home from 1711 to 1734. It opened in 1705 and burned down completely in 1789.

The opera begins with a French-style overture . This is followed by 40 musical numbers, of which 29 are arias, four duets, two choirs and five Accompagnato recitatives . Charles Burney reports on the power of Handel's Accompagnato recitative,

"[...] in which the wild and savage fury of the enraged sorceress, Medea, and her incantations, are admirably painted by the instruments."

"[...] in which the wild, unbridled anger of the mad sorceress, Medea, and her incantations by the instruments are astonishingly clear."

- Charles Burney : A General History of Music. London 1789.

In the person of the passionate sorceress Medea, Handel shows his mastery in drawing character figures for the first time. Charles Burney is full of praise for the opera, only remarking that it could have gotten even better if Handel had had better singers. He is surprised that the opera was not printed because it contains so many beautiful arias, ideas and even strokes of genius.

Distribution of arias and duets

role first act Second act Third act Fourth act Fifth act total
Teseo 0 1 1 3 1 5 arias, 1 duet
Agilea 3 0 1 3 0 6 arias, 1 duet
Egeo 2 1 0 1 1 4 arias, 1 duet
Medea 0 4th 1 1 1 6 arias, 1 duet
Clizia 2 0 1 0 1 2 arias, 2 duets
Arcane 2 0 1 1 1 4 arias, 2 duets


Two recorders , two transverse flutes , two oboes , two bassoons , two trumpets , strings, basso continuo (violoncello, lute, harpsichord).



Web links

Commons : Teseo  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Editing management of the Halle Handel Edition: Documents on life and work. In: Walter Eisen (Hrsg.): Handel manual: Volume 4. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1985, ISBN 978-3-7618-0717-0 , p. 59.
  2. Christopher Hogwood : Georg Friedrich Handel. A biography (= Insel-Taschenbuch 2655). Translated from the English by Bettina Obrecht. Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2000, ISBN 3-458-34355-5 , p. 98.
  3. ^ Silke Leopold: Handel. The operas. Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel 2009, ISBN 978-3-7618-1991-3 , p. 296.
  4. ^ Charles Burney: A General History of Music: from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. Vol. 4, London 1789, reproduction true to the original: Cambridge University Press 2010, ISBN 978-1-108-01642-1 , p. 242.