Theodora, Handel (The Barbican, 8 February 2014)
Harry Bicket conductor | The English Concert
Rosemary Joshua soprano
Sarah Connolly mezzo-soprano
Tim Mead counter-tenor
Kurt Streit tenor
Neal Davies bass
Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street, NYC
So on Saturday I braved the heavy winds and went to see this fine oratorio which was little known to me. Briefly put, everyone rocked, chorus included, except for Neal Davies who failed to project. Kurt Streit was all right. Tim Mead and the ladies were wonderful.
Who knew that so many people were interested in an oratorio about an old fashioned paragon of virtue? Well, I guess Handel has regained his rightful place in the musical Pantheon. The house was full, judged by where I was sitting (balcony). Up there the mix was more even – there were young people and there were old people, but not so ancient as the ones I saw in the stalls at L’Orfeo. There were a few consumptives, but nowhere near me (luckily) and they weren’t particularly intrusive.
Not being very familiar with the piece, I had the chance to focus on things other than this or that rocking number, which is usually what happens. Though I do recall that He saw the lovely youth came out a lot fuller (awesome interplay between the men’s and women’s voices) and livelier than I remembered it from the Glyndebourne recording. Maybe it’s the magic of live performances, maybe it was Bicket & Co. The orchestra sounded really fine throughout, lush and even. I see they’ve been touring this show for a while, so no wonder.
The Trinity Church Choir did a very expressive job. Although this is an introspective affair and Theodora gets all the minor key arias in the world, there are a few more upbeat moments and some of them are reserved for the choir. A Baroque chorus in full swing is lovely to experience live.
Sarah Connolly was the biggest attraction and she delivered. This is the second time I’ve seen her and she’s been lovely both times. Although I found her Pur ti miro I saw online rather lackluster1, I have no doubt she’ll do a great job in Poppea later in the year – just because she’s so good live, plus it’s been a few years since that Liceu production. Poppea aside, It was interesting to see her in the more understated role of Irene, Theodora’s friend. She did some wonderful things with pianissimos and also found space to project when needed, creating a vivid and varied performance. In her duet with Joshua’s Theodora their voices meshed to perfection.
Tim Mead as Didymus was also excellent. He was consistent throughout and there were a couple of instances where his phrasing was simply buttah.
Rosemary Joshua was appropriately “chaste”-voiced, but Theodora is a bit of a dour goody-two-shoes (frankly, she has it rough – she’s condemned to “public lust”, to quote Didymus, unless she burns offerings for Flora & Co., which is sort of ironic if you think about it), so there wasn’t much variety, except for when she decides to do the right thing and hand herself in so that her (platonic as yet) boyfriend Didymus is spared death for the crime of allowing her to escape.
Kurt Streit didn’t bother me or get my interest very much but Neal Davies, who had the couple of bravura arias (such as Cease, ye slaves your fruitless pray’r towards the end) as the villain Valens, underwhelmed me with his lack of projection. That was the time to inject some energy into the piece and his delivery didn’t quite have the right oomph which was more aggravating because the orchestra was rightly poised. His acting was neener-neener bratty enough, though.
Let me remind you, though, Handel doesn’t do short. It finished around 10:30pm by which time I was starving and cranky with a hunger headache (my fault, should’ve got that sandwich at the Barbican Station when I had the chance at 6pm. Or at least a candy bar…). Eveyrthing but the off licences was closed so I didn’t get to eat until I reached home at 11:15pm or so. Whew.
- It was with Miah Persson and I’m not a fan. Then again, I don’t much like Anna Caterina Antonacci either but I guess between the two ACA is the better singer. Either way, given that Connolly is in it I’m not going to agonise over sopranos. ↩