Friday, 2 May 2014

Operatic Dramatic

The BBC are doing an entire season on the 18th century which has made me super excited, as you can imagine. We're only three shows in but it's oh so good - if you're an 18th century history geek obviously. So far, they have concentrated on George Frideric Handel, born in 1685, who is considered to be one of the most accomplished opera composers in history.

Handel was German born but came over to England with his patron George, Elector of Hanover, when he ascended the English throne and became George I. And it was in England where Handel made his fortune and fame. He tapped into the English aristocracy's obsession with all things Italian by creating beautiful, intricate Italian operas. Even when the fashion for Italian opera started to wane, Handel still proved his genius by creating an oratorio in English, his famous Messiah. 

But it's his operas I want to focus on. The names he gave his characters are wild! He had a genius with music and a genius with names, that's for sure. I don't know how many of the names below are actually all that usable, but they're so fun and name nerdy yummy (and, yes, that's a thing.)

Alceste - From the 1727 opera Admeto, it is the Italian form of the Greek mythological name Alcestis. Its possible meaning is that of 'valiant, courageous'. Alceste was also the title of a mini-opera by Handel.

Almirena - In Rinaldo, Almirena is the love interest of the main character Rinaldo. This opera was the first one to be written in Italian for a London stage. The name seems to have been one of Handel's creations, but it may have a connection with Almira, also used by Handel in another opera, meaning 'noble' and 'famous'.

Asteria - Meaning 'starry one' or 'of the stars', it was given to a number of Greek mythological characters, including one of the alkyonides who threw herself into the sea and turned into a kingfisher. This was also the name of one of the characters in Handel's Tamerlane, which was written for the Royal Academy of Music in 1719.

Atalanta - She might easily be confused with Atlanta, making it difficult to use, but she's interesting nonetheless. Like with the previous names, she too finds her origins in Greek mythology. Atalanta, whose name means 'equal in weight', refused to marry anyone who didn't beat her in a race. She's the title role in Atalanta, created in 1736 for the celebration of the marriage of Prince Frederick, the oldest son of George II.

Bellante - From Handel's first opera Almira, created in 1705. Bellante is a surname connected to the Italian town of the same name in the Abruzzo region of Italy. She's a more daring choice to get to the nickname Bella but she's not too crazy. I'd put her along the same lines as Bellamy or Bellaby, two surnames that have great potential to be used as first names.

Carilda - From the opera Arianna in Creta, she appears to me to be similar to Cerilde, perhaps a variant of some sort. There is no known meaning - unless she is related to Cerilde, which would put her meaning at 'armor' and 'battle' - but Carilda has been used! Carilda Oliver Labra is one of the most influential female Cuban poets.

File:Francesca Cuzzoni (James Caldwall after Enoch Seeman).jpgClizia - She appears as a character in the 1713 opera Teseo, but before that, Clizia was the title of an 1525 comedy by Machiavelli. She could very well be related to Greek Clytia, meaning 'famous' and 'noble'.

Deidamia  - The title role of Handel's last Italian opera by the same name. Deidamia has Greek roots, which is no surprise. In mythology she appears as the daughter of King Lycomedes of Scyros and Achilles' lover.

Edilia - Appearing as the name of a princess in Almira, she has a lovely frilly and feminine sound - a nice fit with the likes of Arabella and Lorelei. Once again of Old Greek origins, but this time she's also a variant of Germanic Hedy meaning 'battle, combat'.

Erenice - She's one letter short of Berenice but has a totally different vibe happenin'. I think she looks and sounds more modern and airy, and certainly less buttoned up. From Sosarme, she has no known meaning. 

Erissena  - From the opera Poro, there's not much information about this rarity. I did, however, manage to find an Erissena going back to 1828, the wife of one Richard Johnson, so she has at least been used.

Ermione - This name is truly operatic, with not only making an appearance in Handel's Oreste but also being the title of a latter early 19th century opera by Rossini. Befitting an Italian opera, Ermione is an Italian variant of Hermione, which is of course a derivative of the Greek Hermes meaning 'pile of stones'.

Esilena - Elena has always been a name that I've found very pleasant (when pronounced Eh-LAY-Nah), but I know to some she has a rather dated feel. Not to worry, because Esilena is on the case! From the Rodrigo, she's one to keep in the back of your mind, with her combination of unusualness and wear-ability. Although she's not all the rage, to say the very least, I did find an Esilena "Essie" born in 1894, and isn't that just so lovely? Essie is another choice to consider along with Victorian inspired Hattie, Bessie and Effie.

Fidalma -With her lovely meaning, that of 'faithful soul', you can't help but think she's onto something nice here. Taking the leading role in Muzio Scevola, Fidalma takes a step further than Alma, although for some that step might be one too far. If you don't quite like the meaning but like the sound, there's always Fidelma, the name of an early Christian saint. Fidelma's origins are Irish and her possible meanings, which ever you pick, are fab - 'ever good' or 'beauty'.

Lisaura - Probably a combination of Elizabeth and Laura, this name has a hint of old fashioned Italian charm. She appears in the opera Alessandro, about Alexander the Great and King Poro of India. Although Lisaura is without a doubt a pleasing name, I can't help but think of better known Isaura, whose simplicity seems to work a touch better and needs no elaboration. A late Latin name, it means 'from Isauria', a region in Asia Minor.

Nerea - This moniker might be small but she's mighty. Unlike all of the other names on this list, Nerea is being used, particular in Spain. At one point she was a top 10 name in the Basque region, where she originates from. Nerea, a variant of Nere, means 'mine' in the Basque language. Handel's Nerea appears in his last opera, Deidamia.

File:Faustina Bordoni (Charles Grignion after Rosalba Carriera).jpgOriana - Yes, Arianna might be more feminine with its frilliness and ruffles, but there's something a little bit more special about Oriana - Don't you think she has more meat on her bones? She's from the Latin for gold so there's that precious element to her, too. Additionally, I think Oriana is a fresh and unexpected way to honour an Anna. This Oriana appeared in the very successful Amadigi di Gaula. If the Italian Oriana isn't really floating your boat, there's French Oriane.

Rosmira - Appearing in Partenope, the character of Rosmira is also known in the opera as Eurimene, but Rosmira is more familiar in appearance and is currently being used, mainly in Hispanic countries. There are two possible meanings; In Latin, she is down as 'marvelous rose', but if she is of Germanic origins then her meaning becomes that of 'famous horse warrior'.

Rossane - She could likely be a variant of Rosanne, which rather obviously is a combination of traditional Rose and Anne. However, she could more likely be a variant of Roxana, a name of Persian origins meaning 'bright' or 'dawn'. From Alessandro, I don't think Rossane will capture many hearts - she seems neither distinctively masculine or feminine, which eliminates her from many lists. On top of that, her similarity to Rosanne means that, if she were to have her moment, it would have been back in the 50s.

Teodata - The name of a very obscure Italian saint, Teodata is a fantastic rare find. Her links are truly religious with an Italian monastery in the ninth or eighth century named Santa Maria Teodata. Her meaning carries on this theme and is that of 'given from God'. She is connected to the Late Roman masculine name Deodatus. I like her as an unusual, off-beat alternative to Theodora - you can get the nickname Teddy with both.

Image: Lully's Opera "Armide" Performed at the Palais-Royal, 1761by Gabriel Jacques Saint-Aubin. Francesca Cuzzoni by James Caldwell. Faustina Bordoni by Charles Grignion III.