Part 3 – Anna Strada
When the majority of his company decamped to the rival Opera of the Nobility, the principal survivor in Handel’s company was the soprano Anna Strada. She was part of the group that Handel had brought over in 1729. She had first come to notice in the 1720/21 season in Venice, singing in operas by Vivaldi and later on singing operas by Vinci and Porpora in Naples. In Naples she married the sometime manager of the theatre (the San Bartolomeo), Aurelio del Po, as he owed her 2000 ducats and this was the only way he could find of satisfying her
In the seasons prior to the creation of the Opera of the Nobility, Strada sang 16 roles for Handel including creating five roles. Whilst the roles she created included Angelica in Orlando, none of the new operas in this period quite match what was to come. In the seasons after the secession, Strada was well rewarded for her loyalty to Handel as he wrote some remarkable roles for her (though it was rumoured that she only stayed with Handel because the Opera of the Nobility did not want her). The 1734 season started with her singing the title role in the new opera Arianna in Creta and in the following she went on to sing the title role in Alcina and Ginevra in Ariodante. In the following seasons she created the title roles in Berenice and Atalanta as well as roles in Arminio and Giustino. But Berenice was to be her swan-song and she never sang for Handel again. She continued singing in Italy until 1741 and then retired to Bergamo.
In parallel to her opera career, she also sang for Handel in the oratorio seasons. She sang the title role in the performances of Esther in 1732 which started off the whole genre of Handelian oratorio. She sang Galatea in the performances of Acis and Galatea that year and went on to sing in the first performances of Deborah (the title role), Athalia (Josabeth) and Alexander’s Feast.
She sang more leading roles for Handel than any other singer. Reputedly, she was incredibly ugly and the opera goers gave her the nickname of ‘The Pig’. ‘Strada,’ reported Mrs Pendarves, ‘has a voice without exception fine, but her person is very bad, and she makes frightful mouths.’ But Handel’s support (he declared that he preferred her to his temperamental divas Faustina and Cuzzoni) and artistic confidence let to her acceptance by Londoners. Paolo Rolli, sometime intriguer, man of letters and arranger of librettos for Handel, said that she was like the soprano Faustina but had better intonation, though without Faustina’s charm and brio. She was famous for her trill and combined dramatic flair with seductive singing. The parts Handel wrote for her point to both a wide emotional range and a wide vocal range (c’ to c’’’ in the early parts and d’ to b flat’’ in the later parts).
Four of Handel’s Singers – A Miscellany