Handel: Theodroa (DVD)

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Handel’s Theodora, a tale of Christian martyrdom in 4th century Antioch, is a dramatic oratorio rather than an opera, but it achieved a new currency in 1996, when William Christie conducted a staging at Glyndebourne Festival Opera; this led to an audio recording, released by Erato in 2003 and described by Gramophone as “a magnificent and deeply satisfying performance”. Christie, who lives in France, was the natural choice to conduct Theodora’s first Parisian staging – at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Autumn 2015.

The stage direction was in the hands of Stephen Langridge, who took a simple and dignified approach to the action, making use of atmospheric lighting and sliding screens and costuming the principals and chorus in an unadorned modern style – evening dress, military uniforms or plain white robes.

Le Monde spoke of William Christie’s conducting in glowing terms; it achieved “great mystic depth” through “phrasing that was both firm and subtle, pure but warm in tone, empathetically following each inflection of anger, pain or ecstasy. The sonic fabric was rich and dense, the attack precise.” Didymus was sung by Philippe Jaroussky (who, conducted by Christie, took the title role in Landi’s Il Sant’Alessio, a 2008 DVD release from Erato); Le Monde described his performance of the aria ‘Kind Heaven, if virtue be thy care’ as “a model of ardent luminosity and commitment”. In the title role, the young British soprano Katherine Watson – an alumna of Christie’s programme for young singers, Le Jardin des Voix – was “moving, singing with a noble line, especially in the slow arias.” In the words of the British magazine Opera, the Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer “portrayed Septimius with great subtlety” his voice displaying “the cut, brilliance and intensity that made his Ulisse with Christie such a revelation at Aix-en-Provence in 2000”, while Stéphanie d’Oustrac, the French mezzo-soprano in the role of Irene, “was once again outstanding for the clarity, colour and variety of her singing, her use of the text and her irresistible charisma.”
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