Then and Now: Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast”

The world premiere of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast took place at London’s Covent Garden on February 19, 1736, just a few days before the composer’s 51st birthday. This weekend, ABS will perform this magnificent work, now enjoying its 280th year on the boards, around the Bay Area and in Davis. It is incredible to think that this musical setting of a poem by John Dryden for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists is still thrilling audiences after literally hundreds of years! There is a good reason for that: it is glorious! The longevity of Alexander’s Feast is a testament to the power of Handel’s music and also to the vision, execution, and persuasiveness of its modern champions like Jeffrey Thomas and the forces of ABS. Time is running out to secure seats for ABS’s performances of this masterpiece. Reserve your seats TODAY!


Since this week marks an anniversary of Alexander’s Feast (and also the birthday of its composer), lets take a look at Handel’s first soloists for the work and the ABS interpreters you will hear this weekend.


Anna Maria Strada by Dutch painter Johannes Verelst

Anna Maria Strada by Dutch painter Johannes Verelst, c. 1732

Anna Maria Strada was a frequent Handel collaborator, appearing in the composer’s Partenope, Sosarme, Arminio, Giustino, and Atalanta. Two years after singing in the premiere of Alexander’s Feast, Strada returned to her native Italy and retired from singing after nearly a decade on the London stage.


Anna Gorbachyova

Anna Gorbachyova, soprano

Anna Gorbachyova will make her ABS debut as the soprano soloist in the performances this weekend. A participant in the 2014 ABS Academy, many likely remember Ms. Gorbachyova’s lively performance in the sold-out Festival concert presentation of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato that year. A distinguished operatic performer, her recent accomplishments include performing the role of Madeline in the Welsh National Opera’s 2014 double-bill of Debussy’s The Fall of the House of Usher and the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s Usher House, one year before those productions came to San Francisco Opera last December.


John Beard

John Beard, tenor

Tenor John Beard was a veteran of many Handelian productions in London, creating roles in ten of the composer’s operas and participating in all of his English oratorios. In an age when Italian castrati were the vocal superstars, the success of this English tenor was a remarkable achievement. After Beard’s many triumphant opera seasons at Covent Garden, he retired from singing and became the opera house’s proprietor.


Aaron Sheehan, tenor

Aaron Sheehan, tenor

Aaron Sheehan is an accomplished and versatile artist whose achievements in early music place him at the forefront of the field. He made his ABS debut in 2007 in a program of Early Bach Cantatas and has since performed with ABS on many memorable occasions, including in Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and in both of Bach’s Passion settings. He made a tremendous impact on audiences as the Evangelist in St. John Passion in 2013. [Read an interview with Aaron Sheehan about Alexander’s Feast]


Handel’s bass soloist at the premiere of Alexander’s Feast was a certain Mr. Erard. We know very little about this artist–even his first name remains a mystery–and his participation as a soloist in Handel’s musical activities appears to have been limited. In later London revivals of Alexander’s Feast, Thomas Reinhold, a favorite of the composer, was Handel’s soloist of choice.


William Sharp, baritone. Photo: Brandon Labadie

William Sharp, baritone

Acclaimed baritone William Sharp is no stranger to ABS audiences. Beginning with a program of Bach Cantatas at the inaugural concert, Sharp has appeared with ABS throughout its twenty-seven seasons. Along with many memorable performances, including an incredibly expressive account of Christus in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion last season, Sharp is a member of the ABS Academy Faculty where he performs during the annual ABS Festival and mentors the future generation of early music virtuosi.

Along with sensational vocal soloists, the ABS performances will feature the period-instrument specialists of ABS, the American Bach Choir, Baroque harpist Maria Christina Cleary in her ABS debut, and Maestro Jeffrey Thomas. This is one feast you don’t want to miss!


Tickets may be ordered online, by calling the ABS office (415-621-7900), or purchased tickets at the door one hour before the concert at each venue.

TICKET ADVISORY: The performance in Belvedere (Feb. 26) has limited availability and the performance in Davis (Feb. 29) is SOLD OUT.