Porpora in England

A brief history of Porpora’s time at the Opera of the Nobility in England
Contributor: James Sanderson

The Opera of the Nobility was an opera company set up and funded in 1733 by a group of nobles under Frederick, Prince of Wales in order to rival the Royal Academy of Music company backed by George II and his queen. It was based at a theatre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields under John Rich which had become available on Rich’s opening of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

Francesca Cuzzoni, one of the stars of the Opera of the Nobility
Francesa Cuzzoni

Porpora was ‘sent for’ and brought to England in 1733 by the Opera of the Nobility as a rival to Handel. His first opera in London was Arianna in Nasso produced at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields on 29th December, 1733 using many of Handel’s former singers including Senesino, Montagnana, Cuzzoni (who only arrived in Spring 1734), Gismondi and Bertolli but Strada stayed with Handel. It seems certain that this opera was put on in direct opposition to Handel’s Arianna in Creta, HWV 32 which had its first performance on January 26th, 1734. 

Despite having an all-star cast (including Farinelli who also joined in 1734), the Opera of the Nobility under Porpora did not establish a clear superiority over Handel’s company and he left England in 1736 having written 5 operas for the company, AriannaEnea nel LazioPolifemoIfigenia in Aulide and Mitridate. He also wrote 12 solo cantatas dedicated to the Prince of Wales, a serenata, Festa d’Imeneo and an oratorio, Davide e Bersabea while in London. 

Francesco Bernardi: Senesino

Interestingly, Porpora seems to have been regarded as secondary in importance to Senesino by the Opera of the Nobility. Lincoln’s Inn Fields’ opera house was called ‘Senesino’s House’ or ‘The Prince of Wales’ House’, never Porpora’s. 

Porpora returned to Italy following his ‘London experience’ to the positions of Maestro di Coro at the Venetian Ospedale (Pietà, Incurabili and the Ospedaletto).