- Theodora, oratorio, HWV 68 - George Frideric Handel - William Christie - William Christie - David Daniels [countertenor] - Glyndebourne Festival Chorus - Elizabeth Kenny - Thomas Morell - Frode Olsen - Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - Susan Sheppard - Dawn Upshaw - Michael Hart-Davis - Lorraine Hunt Lieberson - Jonathan Hinden - Jonathan Hinden - Richard Croft
Handel: Theodoraby Dawn Upshaw
This recording of Handel's penultimate oratorio, "Theodora," taken from live performances at the 1996 Glyndebourne Festival, had previously been released in video format. The production, which was directed by Peter Sellars, and set in contemporary America, elicited a range of critical responses based on its visual imagery, but experienced as a purely aural phenomenon as it is here, the performance makes an overwhelming impact. The work includes some of the composer's most sublime music (it was among Handel's own favorites), and it has a libretto that generates considerable sympathy for its psychologically well-delineated characters; it seems like an absolutely natural candidate for presentation as an opera. William Christie works his magic with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whose playing is gorgeous in its lyricism and refinement, as well as beautifully calibrated in its sensitivity to the drama being enacted, giving the performance a startling emotional urgency. The Glyndebourne Chorus is equally impressive in its generous tonal warmth, brisk precision of execution, and the surging vitality of its singing. It's hard to avoid the cliché of describing the cast as star-studded, and even the less-familiar singers perform at the same exalted level as the most prominent. Counter tenor David Daniels, as Didymus, was at the peak of his powers when the recording was made, and his voice has rarely sounded so vibrant, heroic, and agile. Soprano Dawn Upshaw, too, was at her absolute best performing the title role, singing with fullness and evenness of tone and characteristically intense dramatic focus. In the nearly as prominent role of Irene, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt (who had not yet added Lieberson to her name) makes an indelible impression, singing with velvety tone and impeccable technique, and an uncanny gift for conveying the depth of her character's emotional core; her musical and dramatic presence is simply riveting. Given tenor Richard Croft's powerful portrayal of Septimius, it is astonishing that he never achieved the same international prominence as the other leads. His agility in tossing off Handel's coloratura writing and the sweetness and purity of his voice make his a stand-out performance. Bass Frode Olsen has had very limited exposure on recordings, but his potent performance as the villainous Valens is in every way on par with that of his colleagues. Tenor Michael Hart-Davis shines in the small role of the Messenger. The release was made from recordings of several performances, so the sound is not consistent. At its worst, as at the beginning of the opera, there is considerable audience noise and interference, but for the most part the sound is good. The balance is always excellent, and the sound has a lively presence that adds to the dramatic punch of the music. Highly recommended.
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Performance CreditsDawn Upshaw Primary Artist
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This three disc set from the Glyndebourne Festival Opera of a 1996 production of this opera features a young David Daniels (countertenor), Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Richard Croft (tenor), and Lorraine Hunt (mezzo-soprano). This tale of Christian Martyrdom in and of itself is quite fitting for a production, but this cast just sizzles. David Daniels was certainly in fine voice on the day this was recorded, as his rich velvet countertenor caresses the ears while Handel’s music touches the heart and mind. Dawn Upshaw and Richard Croft both do remarkable justice to their characters, but Lorraine Hunt has just an amazing voice – it is captivating, and with Handel the voices themselves are in good hands. William Christie conducts and performs on harpsichord, and his touch is sure and the sound of his instrument bright. As is typical of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera recordings (of which I have several), the liner notes are excellent, documenting not only the historical information relevant to the creation of this piece but also providing the full text of the opera. Photographs of the production are also reproduced therein. And the recording quality is just simply outstanding. This three disc set is a steal. It is captivating, thrilling, and provides a very satisfying listening experience. It makes you wish you had been there in person. Very highly recommended.