Handel´s "Fernando" in Halle
When Handel embarked on the composition of another new opera after Ezio in December 1731, he initially wanted to retain the geographical and historic setting of the original libretto Dionisio, Re di Portogallo (Florence 1707, Antonio Salvi). Under the title Fernando, Re di Castiglia Handel began to set the story about a struggle for power between King Dionisio and his son Alfonso, in which Fernando, King of Castile, intervenes. The plot is set in the former Portuguese capital of Coimbra and its surroundings and, because of the mingling of historic and fictional events and people, can only roughly be dated to the period around 1300.
As a result, Fernando, Re di Castiglia has the most “modern” subject of all Handel’s operas after Tamerlano. This modernity is manifest in the portrayal of a father-son conflict amongst the ruling classes, with parallels to the English situation at the period when the opera was written; the setting in Portugal, the traditional ally of England, and the resolution of the conflict by the intervention of a ruler of Spain, equally traditionally at odds with England and Portugal. These were the elements which would have moved Handel and his unknown librettist in the midst of the composition process to transfer the plot to an innocuous oriental location. And so the opera was composed as Fernando, Re di Castiglia until shortly before the end of the second act, but then completed as Sosarme, Re di Media.
Fernando is thus a fragment and an early version at the same time. The editor Michael Pacholke has edited the fragmentary Fernando producing a performable form, comprehensible in musical and philological terms, as part of the Halle Handel Edition of Sosarme. A conductor’s score and parts will shortly be available on hire from Bärenreiter-Verlag. The vocal score of Sosarme, including the Fernando sections, is available on sale, thereby completing the performance material.
(from [t]akte 2/2019 – translation: Elizabeth Robinson)