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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On Handel operas and autographs,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Dear Alice,

I recently attended a Handel opera at the Washington Opera, with Placido Domingo (who is still my pin-up!!!) The music was delightful but why were all the best parts sung by women? Yes, I know that in Handel's period that would have been sung by castrati, and yes, I admit that the women sang wonderfully, but it wrecked the opera experience for me -- and so much high tessitura!! Why don't people adjust the key and let real tenors and basses have a go at this music?

Another thought: with all the Da Capo arias, there's not much in the way of action. Why not just put them on in concert? -- That would be much less expensive and give many more people the chance to hear them.
Puzzled in DC

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Alice Dear Puzzled,

(Placido Domingo is still my pin-up too, and will be, I think, when he's ninety. Sheer, unadulterated charisma!!!!!!)

You make a lot of interesting points, but I can't see your dreams becoming reality, frankly.

For a start, Handel's amazing operas (except for a few famous songs, like the bloke singing to the tree) were lost to the repertoire for years, until the authentic scene came along and rescued them. Now I know these stone-age people from soup to nuts, and they are so keen on doing everything in ye olde style that I wouldn't put it past them to castrate somebody in hopes of hearing what a castrati person would have sounded like. They would faint with horror at the notion of real men singing these roles with a real male tessitura -- and in the wrong key. Indeed, the poor buggers would get palpitations just thinking about it!!!!!!

And we have to remember that we owe the nut cutlet brigade a lot -- so much so that we don't need them anymore, in fact, since even the stoniest-minded romantic has taken on board some stylistic alterations in the baroque and classical repertoire.

So let them have their way with soprano ladies as Julius Caesar etc (though I know a lot of ripped-off mezzos that think that counter-tenors should be shot). Believe me, it's better than the (only real) alternative.

Ask Alice

? ' Dear Alice,
Is it true that you actually own a Henry VIII autograph? '

Ask Alice

Alice Dear Desi,

Yes, now that you mention it, it is true: or rather Sotheby's in London has it, and it will only remain something I can brag about for two months, when it is auctioned off. From the bank vault straight to Sotheby's, in short, leaving me holding, not a baby, but a facsimile.

And what a signature he had!!!!!! -- though I defy anyone not an autograph expert to make it out, being a load of curlecues, all joined up in a fanatical and regal fashion. I don't think my ten-year-old daughter is much impressed; she has always called him the 'Bad King' ever since going to Hever Castle as a toddler (typical Boleyn propaganda!!!!)

Anyway, I urge you -- and indeed everyone -- to trot along to Sotheby's and bid bid BID on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to buy a Henry VIII (the 'Bad King') autograph once owned by:


Copyright © 23 May 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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