Those who are privileged to see Pinchgut opera’s current production of Handel’s Theodora are in for a treat. It is, I believe faultless in every aspect.
This opera, dated 1749, Handel considered his masterpiece even though it was a commercial failure.With a libretto by Thomas Morell, it concerns the suffering of Christian martyr, Theodora, at the hands of idol worshipping Roman president Valens in 4th century Antioch and is full of beautiful chorus work and some sublime arias.
Theodora, sung by Valda Wilson, Irene, sung by Caitlin Hulcup and Didymus sung by American counter tenor Christopher Lowrey, all did full justice to this magnificent work, with convincing, passionate performances and superb vocal work. I thought Valda Wilson’s performance was perfect, being both a joy to listen to as well as being gorgeous to watch. ‘O thou bright sun’, her aria of despair as she faces rape and prostitution, was very moving and her final duet with Christopher Lowrey sung as their characters ascended to heaven, took the audience to heavenly spaces with them!
Caitlin Hulcup’s warm velvety mezzo soprano voice was also one of the highlights of the evening. There was a deep humanity to all the principals’ performances that moved me deeply.
There was even more ‘wow’ value in the chorus’ sung by Cantillation. In this production they were called upon, not only to sing but also to come up with acting skills playing variously Romans and Christians. Under the excellent direction of Lindy Hume, they changed seamlessly from one to the other.
The three principals were perfectly supported by Ed Lyon (Septimus) and Andrew Collis (Valens) as well as the Aria nominated orchestra of the Antipodes. Under the baton of musical director, Erin Helyard they were also a pleasure to listen to, infusing Handel’s score with a wonderful sensual warmth. Their new acquisition, an enormous bass bassoon, is reason in itself to see this opera.
The City Recital Hall must also be acknowledged. For this listener it has the best acoustics in Sydney and any musical offering there is always enhanced by this location. The elegant lighting by Matthew Marshall drew the audience into the drama transforming a simple set into a spectacular backdrop.
My companion for the evening generally prefers Boogie to Baroque any day but even he was in raptures about Theodora and I cannot urge readers strongly enough to take the plunge and experience this very talented company! From the very knowledgeable talk given by Liz Nielsen prior to the performance to the last transporting chorus sung by Cantillion this production was a pure delight!
Pinchgut Opera’s production of HANDEL’S THEODORA is playing the City Recital Hall until December 6.