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George Frideric Handel (b Halle, 23 February 1685; d London, 14 April 1759)


Attributed to John Arbuthnot and Alexander Pope. Expansion of 1732 had additional material by Samuel Humphreys.


Biblical drama (1689) by Jean Racine (1639-99), derived from the Book of Esther.



Composed: Edgware (Cannons), 1718.

First Performance in London (Crown and Anchor Tavern), 23 February 1732.

First Performance (expanded revision): London (King's Theatre), 2 May 1732.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Greyfriars Kirk), 22 August 2018.



The performance history of Esther is somewhat confused. It was composed at Cannons, the Edgware country home of the Duke of Chandos, where Handel lived for several years. He also composed the masque Acis and Galatea there. Esther is considered to be his first attempt at oratorio. This was a short work, and probably not performed. He seems to have made several adjustments quite quickly, and over the next few years the as yet untitled oratorio was performed, in whole or in part, on a number of occasions, without being noted in great detail. The tavern performance were, it seems, put on by friends to celebrate Handel's birthday. He was then prompted to do a proper re-assessment of the work and revise it for professional performance in his opera season (though it was still only done in concert form.


Main Characters

Ahasuerus, King of Persia (tenor)

Esther, his Queen (soprano)

Mordecai, Esther's cousin and adoptive father (tenor)

Haman, Chief Minister (bass)

Habdonah (tenor)

Israelite Woman (soprano)


Plot Summary

King Ahasuerus of Persiais (usually associated with Xerxes I, who ruled a vast empire from Susa between 486-576BC, and is the central character of the opera Serse. He has taken as his second wife Esther, the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai, a leader of the Jewish diaspora living in Persia. The Hebrews rejoice at her accession to the throne. Haman is offended that Mordecai refuses to proper obeisance to him as an officer of great rank in the empire. Mordecai will only kneel to God. Haman resolves to have Mordecai killed by instituting a pogrom in which the exiled Jews will all be slaughtered. No one is permitted to address the king without being asked first. However Esther bravely does so, and persuades Ahasuerus to rescidg this order. Mordecai is reprieved and Haman executed in his stead.

The Cast

 King of Persia
 Ahasuerus' Queen
First Israelite
First Priest
 of the Israelites
 Chief Minister
Israelite child
 Esther's cousin and adoptive father
Second Priest
 Of the Israelites

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