American Handel Festival

In addition to the color, drama, and catchy tunes that have kept the music of Handel (1685-1759) popular for centuries, he's just spiritually more approachable than most A-list composers. Compared to the unworldly—or supra-worldly—Bach, Handel “spent his life in showbiz,” as Seattle Baroque's Byron Schenkman once put it; he was more interested in the extravagant artifice of opera than in church music. (Handel's late-life switch to Biblical oratorio, à la Messiah, was no less fashion- or income-driven a career move.) Thanks to annual sing-along Messiahs, he's probably the composer most frequently performed by nonprofessional musicians. So naturally there's a strong DIY element to this month's American Handel Festival: master classes and other playing opportunities alongside the near-daily lineup of concerts by a couple dozen local and visiting ensembles. As in any responsible music festival, there'll be contemporary takes on Handel's legacy: Ben Bernstein's one-man opera The Man in the Mirror (March 16-18) looks inside the head of a tenor (Ross Hauck) preparing for a Messiah performance. Other performers and presenters include Seattle Pro Musica, Seattle Early Dance, Boston Early Music Festival, and much more. The fest's official opening is tonight's Seattle Symphony concert, in which soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian takes on the legend of Cleopatra in opera arias written for that character by Handel and a few compatriots. GAVIN BORCHERT

Fri., March 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 12, 8 p.m.; March 13-27, 2011

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