Handel With Care: Paul Traver theoretically retired last summer from the University of Maryland's music faculty and from the University of Maryland Chorus, which he founded 32 years ago. But he will be returning next year and the year after to conduct in the Handel festival that he founded on the College Park campus in 1981. He is enjoying his newfound leisure, Traver explained in a recent interview, but he still has some unfinished business with George Frideric Handel.

There are 18 works with English texts that Handel scholar Winton Dean has classified as dramatic oratorios, beginning with "Esther" in 1718, ending with "Jephtha" in 1752 and not including "Messiah," which is an oratorio and English but does not have a plot line and characters. At the Handel festivals, Traver has conducted 14 of these works, moving through them in chronological order. He resolved long ago to conduct all of them before laying down his baton. He has now completed arrangements to make this possible.

The next oratorios on the list are two of Handel's best: "Susanna" and "Solomon," both dating from 1749 and scheduled for performance on the College Park campus next April and May. In a departure from Handel Festival tradition (and from Handel performance tradition generally), this production of "Susanna" will be staged, with scenery and costumes.

There will be three performances in the university's elegant little Ulrich Recital Hall, beginning April 29, in collaboration with the Maryland Opera Studio, with stage direction by Leon Major, using a student orchestra and singers. "Solomon," which is less operatic in style but has some of Handel's greatest choruses, will be presented in the standard format in a single concert performance in the Memorial Chapel on May 7.

Traver will complete the dramatic oratorio cycle in 2001, conducting performances of "Theodora" (1750) and "Jephtha." The new performing arts center on the College Park campus is scheduled for completion by then, and Traver will conclude his long conducting career at Maryland in the new facility.

He said that discussions are underway on continuing the Handel Festival, which has attracted considerable international scholarly attention to the University of Maryland. "They are thinking of doing a cycle of Handel's operas," he said, "but this would cost a lot more than his oratorios."

Baltimore Festival: Swiss-born conductor Mario Venzago, in his third season as chief conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, has been appointed to succeed Pinchas Zukerman as artistic director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's summer music festival. The festival, a series of five concerts scheduled for performance in the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall between June 28 and July 14 of next year, will concentrate on light classical pieces by such composers as Bach, Mozart, Liszt and Kreisler.

Soprano Health: Life has never been easy for Violetta Valery, the troubled heroine of Verdi's "La Traviata," but what has been happening to her in Baltimore is even harder than usual. For the current Baltimore Lyric Opera House production, Fiorenza Cedolins, the first soprano cast in the role, withdrew because of illness before rehearsals began. Ann Panagulias, brought in as a replacement, withdrew during rehearsals because of illness. Bulgarian soprano Zvetelina Vassileva sang the role on opening night with spectacular success but could not sing every performance because of conflicting engagements. Susan Patterson substituted on Nov. 14 but was unavailable for other evenings because she is singing in the Washington Opera's "Le Cid." So for the Nov. 18 performance, Maire O'Brien flew in from Dublin to make her unexpected American debut. The fifth Violetta engaged for this production (the third to actually sing in it) is the daughter of Irish baritone Frank O'Brien and has often sung "La Traviata" with him in Ireland.

Another surprise debut triggered by health problems is that of soprano Fabiana Bravo in the Virginia Opera production of "The Marriage of Figaro," currently playing at George Mason University and scheduled for performances elsewhere through Dec. 5. Bravo, a student at Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, sang the role of the Countess in this opera for the Summer Opera Theatre in 1997 and was hired by Virginia Opera after a quickly arranged audition.

Chopin Revisited: A CD counterpart to the Chopin Festival now taking place in Washington is the "Chopin Exploration" set of 10 compact discs (available separately) on the imaginative Opus 111 label. The discs include treatments of Chopin's music on period instruments, folk ensembles playing the kind of dances that inspired much of his work, re-creations of several of his concerts, and jazz improvisations on his themes. Vol. 6 of the series duplicates the Nov. 19 program in the Terrace Theater: a reading of letters between Chopin and George Sand by Elzbieta Czyzewska and Mathieu Carriere. Other artists from the festival also featured in the Opus 111 set include pianist Janusz Olejniczak and soprano Olga Pasiecznik. The interpretation of his piano concertos by the Festival Orchestra of Poland with pianist-conductor Krystian Zimerman is available from Deutsche Grammophon.

Hayes Tribute: The tribute to the late Patrick Hayes, given at the Kennedy Center on Oct. 13, will be broadcast tonight on WGMS-FM, 103.5. Participants include James Galway, Andre Watts, Leon Fleisher, Leonard Slatkin and Linda Hohenfeld, Evelyn Lear, Thomas Stewart and Leontyne Price.

Cecilia in Arlington: Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, whose feast day is tomorrow, has inspired compositions in her honor by such composers as Purcell, Handel and Britten. For her feast day, the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington will offer a program of sacred music spanning more than a millennium, from Gregorian and Ambrosian chant to the work of living composers; the concert is at 7:30 tonight. No saints are mentioned in an announcement by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, but it, too, will present a concert of sacred music--by two agnostic composers (Beethoven's Mass in C and Brahms's "Schicksalslied"--"Song of Destiny") at 4 p.m.