Can your cook sing? George Frederick Handel's could. Lots of singers are great cooks, but Handel, who hired a fellow German expatriate to handle some of the bass roles in his operas and oratorios, also referred to him, if only once, as his cook. The reference was a rather snide crack about Christoph Bluck who, Handel said, "knew no more of counterpoint than my cook." Since his cook at that time seems to have been Gustavus Waltz, who was a trained musician in the best tradition, there may have been less snidery than at first appears.
In January 1735, Handel's new opera, and one of his best, "Ariodante," was premiered in the Covent Garden Theater of that era, a theater which was used more for plays than for musical performances. "Ariodante" ran alternately with plays by John Rich, the man whose competitive "Beggar's Opera" almost finished Handel's operatic career. Three years earlier, one Thomas Arne, the father of the composer by the same name, had presented an unauthorized version of Handel's exquisite pastoral, "Acis and Galatea," in a theater right across the street from Handel's opera house. Singing the role of Polyphemus was this bass Waltz. Handel hired him away from Arne and presented him in his own, obviously authorized, version of "Acis." During Waltz's subsequent career, he was the first to sing the title role in the oratorio "Saul," and the first King of Scotland in "Ariodante."
Washingtonians with memories reaching back to the opening of the Kennedy Center in September 1971 will remember the production of "Ariodante" that was given in the Opera House the second night of the Center's existence. Its cast, headed by Beverly Sills and Tatiana Troyanos, made for a brilliant evening.
Tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall the Handel Festival in the Kennedy Center will open its new season with a concert version of "Ariodante," under the baton of Stephen Simon. The cast includes Huguette Tourangeau in the title role, Lorna Haywood as Ginevra, Morley Meredith as the King of Scotland -- the Waltz role -- Grayson Hirst as Lurcanio, June Anderson as Dalinda, Fredda Rakusin as Polinesso, and Alburtt Rhodes as Odoardo.
When the opera was new, Handel wrote some of his most enchanting dance music into the score for the Parisian ballerina Marie Salle who was in London at the time. The original Ariodante was the castrato Carestini, but since such voices are out of general use these days, the substitution of a mezzo-soprano is customary, even though a baritone voice would be far more in keeping with the part dramatically.