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Handel: Theodora / Bolton, Schafer, Mehta, Fink [Blu-Ray]

Album Summary

>Handel, George Frideric : Theodora
Performers Conductor Ensembles Composer

Notes & Reviews:

George Frederic Handel's oratorio Theodora, in its first-ever staged version at the Salzburg Festival, was among the highlights of Handel Year 2009. Acclaimed director Christof Loy presented Theodora as the profoundly moving tale of a woman who prefers death to denying her faith, an interpretation captivated with bravura by world-renowned video director Hannes Rossacher. A luminous Christine Schäfer and countertenor Bejun Mehta formed a perfect leading couple altogether suited to conductor Ivor Bolton's vigorous reading. "With Christine Schafer, Salzburg has found an ideal singer for the title role" (Süddeutsche Zeitung).

"Theodora may fail as a religious screed, but as a prime example of the mature phase of Handel's compositional career, it can hardly be topped. Full of gorgeous, achingly lyrical melodies and some brilliantly evocative choral moments, this is an oratorio which may leave some scratching their heads from a dramatic standpoint while never questioning the supreme artistry of the music. This semi-staged reading is to be commended for not going over the top, trying to shove a dramatic narrative down the oratorio's throat which simply can't be justified or sustained. The cast is wonderfully voiced, and the orchestra and chorus sound marvelous, and really that's all that matters in the long run. Not that many people are all that familiar with Theodora, despite Sellars' sensational production of a few years ago, and hopefully this new Blu-ray can help bring this beautiful piece to a wider audience. Highly recommended." -Blu-Ray.com

Presented at the Salzburg Festival in 2009 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death, Theodora isn’t a Handel opera, but rather a staged version of his 1750 oratorio. It would however be more accurate to say that this is semi-staged, and perhaps even more accurate to say it’s barely staged at all... The music is warmly rapturous, the singing heavenly and the choruses inspiringly uplifting. The producers clearly recognise where the strengths of the piece are and give them centre stage, doing nothing in the loose dramatisation that could interfere with the singing performances. Those performances are magnificent, the English diction perfect in every case, with Christine Schäfer’s Theodora exhibiting fragility turning into steely determination, Bejun Mehta a glorious countertenor Didymus and Joseph Kaiser a fine, emotionally moved Septimus. Ivor Bolton conducts the Freiburger Barockorchester with great sensitivity through a breathtaking performance. This is a stunningly beautiful work, perfectly performed and very well presented in High Definition, with a terrifically detailed image and two fine audio tracks in LPCM Stereo and DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, where every element of the mix is crystal clear and perfectly balanced." -Opera Journal

The 2009 Salzburg production of Handel's penultimate masterpiece Theodora - his only English oratorio set in early Christian times - is much more rewarding. Christof Loy eschews stage scenery in favour of a moodily lit backdrop of the festival hall's massive pipe organ and props of just sparse wooden chairs (which are used or cleared smoothly by soloists and the Salzburg Bach Choir as the scenes require). The action is intensely dramatic but tends to shy away from narrative staging - in some respects the result is like a semi-staged concert with intense acting and a mobile chorus.

Christoph Loy, one of the most interesting directors around at the moment, stages the action in a concert setting. Paradoxical though that may sound, it works brilliantly, throwing the emphasis on to the music as action in itself. Christine Schäfer leads a fine line-up.

Ivor Bolton conducts a good performance. Half of the movements in Theodora are marked largo or larghetto. Bolton's lively but not overly fast tempos keep things moving while being true to Handel's drama. Chorus and orchestra are very good. And the cast is excellent, strong in all department...

... performances are excellent - and... full of emotional integrity... this Theodora is definitely worth acquiring...

Even if this were not the lone Blu-ray offering of Theodora, it is unlikely that another would supplant this performance's video and sound recording. Drama, not usually associated with the oratorio musical form, is presented in abundance. Christof Loy's realization adds action to what would have otherwise been a stand-and-deliver piece. Yes, the stage is mostly bare, the backdrop is usually dark, and the main props are chairs but there is obvious action equivalent to that of a discretely staged performance like recent "concert" versions of Les Miserables or Sweeney Todd. Handel's vocal works rise or fall on the quality of the singers. I am delighted to report that this Theodora offers an embarrassment of vocal riches. There is also luxury casting in having evergreen British tenor Ryland Davies in the minor role of the Messenger. Baroque specialist, conductor Ivor Bolton, brings spirit to the proceedings and keeps the dramatic pulse ticking. Clocking in at just over 3 hours, including a 14-minute organ concerto in the third act, Theodora does not play as a long work. As far as I am concerned, this is a case of all the stars aligning and yielding a superb performance in both sight and sound.

MusicWeb International
The role of Theodora, virgin extraordinaire, is a difficult one to act as distinct from sing. Christine SchSfer's accented English is a disadvantage to her expression, as is an occasional thinness of tone. That she overcomes these weaknesses to portray Theodora's love, plight and ultimate sacrifice is to hail her professionalism. Sitting, knees tight close together in the opening scene as Valens nudges, eyes her and later generally rages (CH.6) calls for silent acting of a high order. Singing poignantly alongside the Didymus of Bejun Mehta in the final duet of martyrdom, Streams of pleasure, (CH.42 on Blu Ray and DVD 2 CH.40) finds her at her poignant best.

Notes & Reviews:

Run Time: 189 min.
Region: All
Picture Format: Blu-Ray, 16:9, Color
Sound Format(s): LPCM 2.0, DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish


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Works Details

>Handel, George Frideric : Theodora
  • Performers: Ryland Davies (Tenor); Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano); Joseph Kaiser (Tenor); Johannes Kränzle (Bass); Bejun Mehta (Countertenor); Christine Schäfer (Soprano)
  • Conductor: Ivor Bolton
  • Ensemble: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1749