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(Soundbite of music)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Had there been stadiums in the 1700s, surely George Frideric Handel would have played in them. He was one of the first classical music superstars. His works were the toast of London for over 30 years. And on this 250th anniversary of his death, he is still hugely popular with audiences and musicians - like Nicolas McGegan, who loves conducting Handel's "Water Music," written for the king of England's boating party on the Thames.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NICOLAS MCGEGAN (Musician): Such a ceremony had to have music in the background. The musicians were in a separate boat, tagging along, while the king was in the big, golden barge with his girlfriends.

(Soundbite of "Water Music")

Mr. MCGEGAN: It's incredibly great music and clearly, at some point, it completely outdid its function in the sense that people really started to listen to it as opposed to it being sort of royal Muzak.

(Soundbite of "Water Music")

Mr. MCGEGAN: The opera arias also have absolutely everything. They have heart-rendering grief, dazzling virtuosity. They have all the emotions there.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOYCE DIDONATO (Singer): I'm mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and a large part of my career is based on singing the music of Handel.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Ms. DIDONATO: If I can make it to the end of the aria in one piece, there's a great sense of accomplishment just in that, in these big, virtuosic arias. But on a much deeper level, what's thrilling for me is the opportunity to really explore the psychology of the character.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Ms. DIDONATO: We have the character of Ariodante who is saying my death will be on your shoulders. But it's done over these languid, beautiful phrases, so you have the depth of human despair with this tinge of vengeance at the same time, in one of the most beautiful melodies.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Ms. DIDONATO: As advanced as we like to think that we are, we still succumb to jealousy and rage and euphoria. We're humans, and I think we have so much to learn by having the chance to explore these vivid, amazing characters. I do think that there's a truth in this music, and I think that's why it still speaks to us.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

MONTAGNE: George Frideric Handel died 250 years ago today. He was buried in Westminster Abbey before a crowd of 3,000 people. You can hear more of his music on our Web site at nprmusic.org, and our thanks to NPR Producer Tom Huizenga for this musical moment. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

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