HANDEL: Solomon

Music composed by G. F. Handel. Librettist unknown (see below).

First Performance: 17 March 1749, Covent Garden Theatre, London

Principal Characters:
Solomon Alto
Solomons’s Queen Soprano
Nicaule, Queen of Sheba Soprano
First Harlot Soprano
Second Harlot Mezzo-Soprano
Zadok, the High Priest Tenor
A Levite Bass
Attendant Tenor

Setting: Ancient Israel

Background and Summary:

The author of the libretto is unknown. Some writers have ascribed it to Thomas Morell, but this
seems doubtful when the rest of his work for Handel is compared with it. The language and
outline of Solomon are quite different in concept and realization from Morrell’s usual work. The
Bible tells of Solomon’s golden reign in Kings I and Chronicles II. The librettist seems to have
drawn on both these sources because the famous story of Solomon’s judgment between the two
harlots (the false and true mother of the baby) occurs only in Kings; but both books describe the
building and dedication of the temple and the visit of the Queen of Sheba.

All three acts of the oratorio deal with a different side of Solomon. Act I emphasizes his piety
and marital bliss – the librettist tactfully making no mention of the Biblical 700 wives and 300
concubines. Rather Solomon is portrayed in love scenes with his one beloved wife and queen,
who has no name except that she is Pharaoh’s daughter. The first scene of the act shows the
opening of the temple with songs of praise to Solomon’s greatness by Zadok, the priest, and the
people. In the second scene, Solomon promises his queen a palace as they retire to the cedar
grove. They pledge their love amid flowers, sweet breezes, and singing nightingales.

Act II portrays the wisdom of Solomon. After the king has shown proper humility before his God
for what he has achieved, two women are brought in. The first claims that the baby the other is
carrying belongs rightfully to her. Both have shared a house and each has borne a child. The first
harlot says that the second woman’s child died, and during the night the latter came in and took
her baby away, leaving the dead child instead. The second harlot replies that the situation is just
the opposite, and the child is really hers. Solomon offers to divide the child in two with a sword,
so that each will have half. This frightening proposal quickly uncovers the true mother — the
first harlot. She tells the king she would rather relinquish the child to spare its life. The second
woman readily agrees to the proposition, exposing her lack of any real maternal concern.
Solomon tells the woman he had no intention of slaying the infant but took this way of learning
the truth. The chorus and the first harlot pay tribute to Solomon’s wise judgment.

Act III is very similar to Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast in that Solomon presents a musical masque
for the visiting Queen of Sheba. The passions of fury, tortured soul, and calm are so vividly
portrayed by the chorus and Solomon that the Queen is overwhelmed by the power of the
representation. The view of the newly finished temple completes her awe, and she presents her
treasure to the great Solomon. Both end by pledging peace and glory to their respective realms.

[Adapted from program notes by J. Merrill Knapp]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image_description=King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Konrad Witz, c. 1435
first_audio_name=G. F. Handel: Solomon
product_title=G. F. Handel: Solomon
product_by=Jean Rigby, Susan Bickley, Marie Arnet, Robert Murray.Andrew Foster-Williams, Chorus of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Concert Kˆln, Marcus Creed (cond.)
Live performance, 25 January 2007, Hamburg