Arcangelo is Performing Handel’s Theodora at the Proms Tonight Live on BBC Radio 3 at 7pm
We are thrilled to be performing Handel’s Theodora tonight at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms Festival, which is being broadcast live on Radio 3 at 7pm.
Arcangelo is joined by three outstanding British singers who have already worked regularly with Arcangelo – Louise Alder, Iestyn Davies and Benjamin Hulett – together with the legendary Handelian mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg and the brilliant young Kuwaiti-born German bass, Tareq Nazmi.
If you are joining us tonight or listening on the radio, we thought you might enjoy these additional programme notes:
When asked whether he thought the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus in his Messiah was his masterpiece, Handel replied, ‘No… I think the Chorus at the end of the 2d part [‘He saw the lovely youth’ ] in Theodora far beyond it.’ The author of the libretto, Thomas Morrell, indeed reported that Handel thought more highly of this oratorio that any of his others.
Theodora is a more soulful work than some of Handel’s previous oratorios, with none of the military bluster of Judas Maccabaeus and Alexander Balus.
As Jonathan Cohen says:
“Could this be some of Handel’s most spiritual music? He’s exploring the themes of devotion, love, sacrifice, truth, honour and virtue… It is an exploration of the divine in the context of the tribalistic tendencies of humanity”.
The chorus is required to take on different roles – at one moment they are a humble religious group, the next a rowdy rabble of pagans. Perhaps their most extraordinary music is near the end of the of opera: ‘How strange their ends’, where – as pagans – they express their wonder at the deaths of Didymus and Theodora, with a musical phrase starting with the disturbing interval of a 7th.
The score is packed with emotional arias, revealing Handel’s genius for expressing human psychology as well as creating memorable tunes:
* Listen out for Irene’s evocation of sunrise in ‘As with rosy steps the morn’;
* Didymus’s ‘Kind Heaven’, which shows the character’s gradual conversion to Christianity alongside his torment as a young lover;
* Theodora’s famous prayer ‘Angels ever bright and fair’, sung as she is led away to become a prostitute; and the revelation of Christian sympathies in the Roman soldier Septimius during ‘Descend, kind pity’.
* The final aria for Didymus, ‘Streams of pleasure’, magically turns into a duet as Theodora joins him on ‘Thither let our hearts aspire’, singing about the joy of heaven as they prepare to die.
To Handel’s great disappointment, the first performance was not well received – the London audience on 16 March 1750 was probably put off by the tragic ending and was already thin due to the general panic caused by a series of earthquakes in London in the preceeding days.
Joining us tonight are also Jonathan Manson, Thomas Dunford, Michael Gurevich and Rachel Brown:
And here are members of the 36-strong Arcangelo Chorus: