From around 1686 to 1738, the Hamburg Opera was one of Europe’s leading musical centres. Some of the most famous composers of the baroque era lived and worked, at least for a time, in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Performances of the operas of Reinhard Keiser, Johann Mattheson, Georg Philip Telemann and Georg Friedrich Händel testify to this. During his Hamburg years, Georg Friedrich Händel was opera violinist and harpsichordist, and most of the operas played in Hamburg were from the pen of Reinhard Keiser. Mattheson, only a few years older than Händel, also wrote his own pieces, which he quite often conducted himself, or in which he himself sung. From 1721 onwards Telemann, as Hamburg’s Director of Music, was primarily responsible for musical arrangements at the city’s main churches on religious holidays. Despite this, unlike his predecessor Thomas Selle, he also featured as a composer of opera.
When Georg Friedrich Händel was engaged in 1703 he was no star, just a hopeful young artist starting out on a promising career as composer, organist and harpsichordist. Apart from performing his duties as a member of the orchestra, Händel used his Hamburg years to present to a wider audience his own opera compositions under his own direction (or under the direction of Mattheson, with whom he nurtured friendly relations for some of the time). In 1705 his first opera “Almira” had its debut. It was a mix of styles typical of Hamburg at the time, i.e. an Italian libretto translated into German, a German recitative in the Italian manner, most arias sung in German and only a few sung in Italian. Added to this was a French-style overture with French orchestration and, of course, dances.