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The persona of Haendel lends itself perfectly to the role of a ‘gay icon’ by transforming him into a ‘bent that bends.’ The history of the performers of Handel’s roles, from castrati to countertenors, opens the way to a new perspective on how a cultural icon, the composer of Messiah, can be approached, beyond the sole study of reception. Gérard Corbiau’s film, Farinelli, speaks volumes about the blatant fictionalization of the lives of Carlo Broschi (his ‘campness’?) and Handel. The renewal of the Handelian baroque opera is an invitation to re- examine Handel in the light of the notion of ‘queer.’

From the moment Ellen T. Harris identified both voice and desire in Handel’s cantatas (1706- 23), the myth has grown and the fascinating and obsessive biographical aspect has shown through the aesthetic dimension. Composed on libretti that deal with mythological themes and intended for an aristocratic audience, the cantatas hark back to the classical pastoral tradition in which homosexual desire is both idealized and celebrated. Handel has been Orpheus for a long time.

The modern rediscovery of the repertory imposes a study of the various platforms which Handel created in music by composing roles originally intended for castrati (18 roles for Senesino alone) and sung by countertenors today. The resurrection of countertenors, heralded by pioneers such as Alfred Deller, has ushered in the crucial distinction between the castrato, who occupies the ideal position of the unlikely singer of a golden age, the topos of the imagination, the very voice of Arcadia, on the one hand, and the countertenor, the new star of the Handelian opera, on the other. Audiences are not ready yet for ‘drag’ or ‘cross-over’ roles. The incongruity between voice and physical aspect threatens Orlando who turns into the very voice of madness.

Haendel après Haendel :
Construction, renommée, influence de Haendel et de la figure haendélienne
Maja Vukusic Zorica
Université de Zagreb
Les périgrinations du genre ou "Bent that bends" : des castrats aux contreténors, de la tradition à la "monstruosité"