Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sellars' Theodora

Theodora is one of Handel's last works.  I read that "the public did not react favorably" to it, and I suppose I can see why.  It is about the persecution of Christians by Romans, and it is composed with all the austere dignity the subject would seem to require.  Handel himself apparently saw things differently; by the account of his librettist, Handel thought the aria "He Saw the Lonely Youth," at the end of Act II,  superior to the "Hallelujah Chorus" in the Messiah

I think I can see (or her?) what is going on here.  In fact, Theodora contains a thousand fragments that you can recognize as inimitable Handel.  But in ordinary times they are decked out with jewels and feathers; here they are stripped down to their essence.  A fun-loving, distractible London audience may be thought not quite worthy of it.

Mr. and Mrs. B have now finished a superb (and widely acclaimed) version by Peter Sellars from the Glyndebourne Festival, and it is everything you might hope it would be.  Here's Willliam Christie (who must be one of the luckiest men in contemporary opera) conducting David Daniels, Dawn Upshaw and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, all at the peak of their power.  Especially Lieberson, who died at 54 (in 2006) and all you can think is--my God, what a loss.

And did I mention that it took us three evenings?:  Perhaps we weren't quite worthy of it either.

Here's a Youtube rendition of "He Saw the Lonely Youth" with libretto though oddly, without any context--I have no idea who is singing or playing:

[Background and quotation from Choral Repertoire by Dennis Shrock.

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