Handel’s Theodora

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Thursday 6th February, 6:30pm

Town Hall

The English Concert

Harry Bicket conductor

Rosemary Joshua Theodora

Sarah Connolly Irene

Tim Mead Didymus

Kurt Streit Septimus

Neal Davies Valens

Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street, New York

Handel Theodora 160’

This concert has a running time of c 3 1⁄4 hours with two intervals of 20 and 15 minutes.

Handel rated Theodora more highly than the Messiah, and some say that this heartfelt tragedy of ancient Rome was his favourite of all his oratorios. For Harry Bicket and The English Concert it’s a neglected masterpiece, and with a quality cast that includes Sarah Connolly and Rosemary Joshua plus a fine American chamber choir, this should be a compelling sequel to last season’s critically-acclaimed performance of Radamisto.

Sung in English with English surtitles.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “But before any of these bracing leads, a hugely well-deserved mention for the chorus,  the American-based Choir of Trinity Wall Street (this Theodora has already toured the States from West Coast to East, winding up in New York at the Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall. See Stan Metzger’s review ).

One noticed something quite remarkable about their early choruses: a phenomenal attentiveness, which made their rhythmic sense as alive as anything in the performance; and a harmonising of timbre (across girls and men but in fact embracing both), which so far from restricting, only underwrote their unanimity of delivery. Then later, brilliant characterisation in the almost clodhopping descending patterns of the lusty Roman Venus- (and Flora-) worshippers – while swapping demeanour effortlessly for the serene Christian choir conclusion – and a capacity for small bits of coloratura, or virtual coloratura, than sometimes capped even the principals.     […]

[…]  No surprise that Sarah Connolly was absolutely wonderful in the soubrette role of Irene – but for a reason. Her first aria, and indeed much of her input, was sung so peaceably and serenely.  ‘As with my steps the morn’ grew from pianissimo to piano, and her reprise was more like quadruple and triple piano. The effect was utterly mesmerising. Connolly, uniquely, has the artistry to effect portamento (‘bane of virtue’), a device she never overuses but which brings maximum affect when she does. Every time she sang was a masterclass; ‘Thou art the light, the life, the way’ was quite sensational; her start to Act III is as moving as Britten’s Lucretia.      […]

[…] But the nicest surprise of all lay in another singer. This was the countertenor Tim Mead, as Theodora’s lover and fellow-Christian Didymus, who in Act 3 pays, like her, with his life. I heard Mead some years back and was underwhelmed: a diffident voice and thin stage presence. Now  he dominates, the sound is forceful, confident, often thrilling – the presence attractive and engaging. The tone and timbre are immensely alluring. There is a precision that goes with the assurance. His coloratura was second to none. ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’, where he is matched in duet by Theodora as they both brace for the worst, is lovely enough: ‘Streams of pleasure’, the Act 3 equivalent, even more so. But ‘Kind heaven, if virtue be thy care’ at the end of Act I, with attractively skedaddling violins, was an aria of breathtaking beauty, the clarity and precision at this moment when he determined, if necessary, to die matched by some delightful light decoration at the da capo: pure enchantment; Didymus’s big Act 2 aria, ‘Deeds of kindness to display’, was simply out of this world.”

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Review by BH /”Admin” Lark Reviews:

Click here for full review

“Cast from some of the finest Handelians available and given the vigour of Harry Bicket’s conducting, this presentation could not fail; and so it proved.

Rosemary Joshua was as limpid a heroine as one could wish, and her Didymus, Tim Mead, a florid counter-tenor who brought genuine emotion to his singing. Sarah Connolly has some of Handel’s most moving music for Irene’s passionate support and consolation, and matched the more rugged approach of Kurt Streit’s Septimus.

Jonathan Best was a late replacement as Valens and seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but soon settled. The choir of Trinity Wall Street were new to me in terms of live performance and brought bounce and enthusiasm in addition to splendid articulation.”     …

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “This Theodora, with Harry Bicket directing The English Concert from the keyboard, was ardent, stylish and eloquently performed – given the limitations of the material.

In the title role Rosemary Joshua’s sweet-toned lyric soprano was perfect for the spotless Christian virgin’s prayer Angels ever bright and fair, and was well complemented by Sarah Connolly’s rich well-focused mezzo-soprano as her friend Irene.

Handel wrote the role of Theodora’s lover the Roman soldier Didymus, a closet Christian convert, for a castrato and brilliantly exploited the voice’s ethereal qualities.

Countertenor Tim Mead floated some gorgeous high notes, gracefully caressing the words. Kurt Streit almost made the paper-thin Septimius into a credible character, vehemently railing against the “Dread fruits of Christian folly”.

Jonathan Best (a late replacement for indisposed Neal Davies) was gruff but reliable as Valens. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street was in fine voice, splendid both as bloodthirsty lustful pagans and pious Christians.”

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