BBC Prom 74: Handel – Theodora

Handel: Theodora
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2018

Of all Handel oratorios, the one that is probably most likely to put you off Christianity (or put you even further off Christianity) is Theodora. Set during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the story is of two love-struck Christians who refuse to honour the Roman gods, and then vie with each other as to which of them is to be put to death as a result, each insisting on taking the place of the other until the exasperated Valens, President of Antioch, has them both sent to their heaven. It was unusual for an opera or oratorio to end badly for the leading lights, which perhaps explains its lack of success at the time. The text doesn’t bear much scrutiny either, the earlier arias of the Christian contingent and their confidence that the Lord would provide protection ‘here and everywhere’,  and the chorus’s response that the Everlasting One was ‘Mighty to save in perils, storm and death’, seemed a little ill-judged in the forthcoming circumstances.   But, setting aside the silly plot, the text and music express aspects of love, religious freedom, bloody-mindedness, and the assumptions that Christians are far more musically intelligent than ‘heathens’. The latter is a particular feature of Handel’s music, with the choir switching between Heathen and Christian to distinctly different music, the former generally rather four-square, clumpy, and harmonically unadventurous, the latter tuneful and svelte.  Continue reading

Handel: Theodora

Handel: Theodora
Basingstoke Choral Society, Hanover Band, Erica Eloff
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 2 July 2016

Local choral societies do not normally come within my reviewing remit, but the addition of the period instrument orchestra, The Hanover Band and the outstanding soprano Erica Eloff to the event at my local concert hall proved irresistible. The Basingstoke Choral Society has local roots going back to the late 19th century. An 1889 programme of a performance of Elijah by its predecessor, the Basingstoke Musical Society, mentions a choir of around 100 singers. For this performance of Handel’s oratorio Theodora, they fielded 108 singers, with 38 sopranos, 38 altos, 13 tenors and 18 bass singers, arranged in six rows overflowing from the stage on the rear stalls seats.

Theordora is a curious work. One of Handel’s least successful productions, it only ran for three poorly attended performances, and was only revived once during Handel’s lifetime. It was one of his last oratorios, written when Handel was 64, and is now seen as a masterpiece, with some notably arias and choruses. The story is unusual when compared with other Handel oratorios and operas. It is based on the story of a fourth century Princess who refused to Continue reading