Handel With Care

German-born George Frideric Handel lost a fortune writing and producing Italian operas for underwhelmed English audiences. In 1742 he got the bright idea to write an oratorio, and Messiah premiered a month later in Dublin. At the age of 57, Handel became an overnight sensation and stopped composing operas altogether. Currently, only a handful of his 42 operas appear regularly on international opera and concert stages.

One of these rare works, “Radamisto,” gets the kid gloves treatment by Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra on Saturday, March 1 at Zipper Concert Hall, and Sunday, March 2, 2008 at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall.

The Handel operas experienced a surge of new interest in the 1960s, largely due to the ascendance of the now-legendary soprano Joan Sutherland. Her frequent collaborator, USC graduate Marilyn Horne, was one of very few mezzo-sopranos capable of the fiendishly difficult roles Handel had composed for the celebrated castrato, Senesino. As the operas gained popularity, a whole new generation of countertenors, or male falsetto singers, tackled and mastered these roles.

Regarded as Southern California’s premier Baroque ensemble, Musica Angelica features a countertenor in the title role of Radamisto, and plays the work on authentic period instruments. “It’s really special to be able to hear this music as the composer intended it,” says orchestra general manager Laura Spino.

Hamburg Opera presented a staged version of “Radamisto” last season. Another staged version, led by Musica Angelica’s music director Martin Haselböck, recently toured Europe. Haselböck assembles leading singers from both productions for the Los Angeles performances.

The artistic challenges belong to Maestro Haselböck. Spino observes that “his brilliant musicianship, boundless energy, drive and passion for this music” allow him to pull the myriad disparate pieces together, all within the orchestra’s limited allotment of five to six rehearsals.

Although mounting this concert version of a Handel opera is “a massive enterprise,” Spino says the orchestra has plans to feature one opera each year, with fully staged productions the next step in Musica Angelica’s future.

For more information, or a brochure with the full season schedule, call (310) 458-4504 or visit www.MusicaAngelica.org. FineArtsLA also has several pairs of tickets for the March 1 production as part of our Forty Unders program. Send us an e-mail and they’re yours. — Penny Orloff

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