Cambridge Handel Opera (formerly the Cambridge Handel Opera Group) was founded by Andrew Jones in 1985 with the intention of presenting fully-staged productions of Handel's operas in English, and performed in a style that respects the composer's intentions and expectations in both the musical and the visual aspects of the production.
In the early years – with much enthusiasm but little money – we relied for the most part on outstanding students at (or recently graduated from) the conservatoires to take the solo roles. Many of these later embarked on careers as professional singers, in one or two cases at the highest level.
Rosemary Joshua, for example, who sang the role of Rossane in our production of Floridante (1989), is now established on the international operatic stage as one of the leading sopranos of her generation: her Handel operatic roles include Ginevra in Ariodante, Angelica in Orlando, Poppea in Agrippina, Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, and the title role in Semele. Of her performance as Rossane with CHOG in 1989 the critic Stanley Sadie wrote prophetically: ‘The real discovery of the evening was Rosemary Joshua, in the soprano seconda donna role of Rossane: a singer with a natural grace and shapeliness of phrase, a true musician, expressive and communicative in all she does - we will, I am sure, see and hear much more of her’.
The countertenor Jonathan Peter Kenny sang with CHOG in our very first production (the role of Bertarido in Rodelinda), when he was still a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and in three more productions after that: as Guido in Flavio, the title role in Amadigi, and as Demetrio in Berenice.
As our reputation grew, we were joined by singers who were already well established in professional careers. Ann Mackay, for example, sang three title-roles between 1993 and 1997 – Berenice, Partenope, and Alcina – and Christine Botes sang five roles between 1995 and 2003: Rosmira in Partenope, Bradamante in Alcina, Trasimede in Admeto, Medoro in Orlando, and Amastre in Serse.
For the seven productions between 1993 and 2005 our Stage Director was Richard Gregson, whose wide experience in international opera houses gave CHOG a tremendous boost; his productions for CHOG were widely praised in reviews in the national press, and live on in the memories of those who saw them. From a personal perspective, the Music Director counts this one of the happiest collaborations of his professional career.
So far we have presented fourteen of Handel’s operas, some in their original form for the first time since the eighteenth century: Rodelinda (1985), Flavio (1987), Floridante (1989), Amadigi (1991), Berenice (1993), Partenope (1995), Alcina (1997), Admeto (1999), Orlando (2001), Serse (2003), Tamerlano (2005), Imeneo (2007), Ariodante (2009), and Agrippina (2011).