The London Royal School's Vocal Faculty's production of Handel's 'Alessandro Severo' is at the Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music (0181-336 0990) London SW7, on 18-21 Mar, at 7pm

"Unperformed since Handel's own time" now almost seems like a commonplace way of advertising a rare opera or oratorio by the Baroque master. Though it does also make one wonder just how much music the man composed. From settling permanently in London in 1712 until around 1740, Handel composed more than one new opera a year. Result: 40-plus operas, each with music of around three hours' duration. Yet when time was pressing and didn't permit him to write an entirely new opera, Handel would conveniently cobble together bits of some of his previous ones in what is known as a pastiocio.

Such is the case with Alessandro Severo, in which the arias, duets, entr'acts and final chorus are lifted from three works given during the previous London season - Arminio, Giustino and Berenice - whilst the overture and recitatives are new. This week the pioneering London Handel Society teams up with young singers from the Royal College and the Royal Academy to air Alessandro Severo, as an integral part of the 20th London Handel Festival.

"It's well worth hearing," enthuses conductor Michael Rosewell, "Powerful, dramatic and, by Handel standards, almost fast-moving. The opera tells of how Roman Emperor Alexander Severus is dominated by his mother, yet how she eventually is outranked by the Emperor's new wife Sallustia. Director Mike Ashman is giving it a token Roman setting and we'll be using a period instrument orchestra. It's lightly scored and ideal, though testing, for young voices, whilst the Britten Theatre has just the right size and acoustic."

Staunch Handelians will certainly want to see and hear Alessandro Severo, whilst even the unconverted might find something thrilling about attending the first performance in the world of an opera last staged in 1738.


Another 'new' work, this time by Handel's exact contemporary JS Bach, falls under the spotlight tonight when the London Concert Choir and Baroque Players give the first complete London performance of a reconstruction, prepared by Andor Gomme, of the St. Mark Passion. Professor Gomme will talk about his work on the piece before the concert.

St John's Smith Square (0171-222 1061), London W1, 7.30pm tonight. Talk at 6pm