London Handel Festival unveils brand new work
In the Realms of Sorrow draws together four Handel cantatas into a brand new piece of music theatre. Here, conductor Laurence Cummings charts its creation
The London Handel Festival is to unveil a brand new work during this year's festival.
In The Realms Of Sorrow is the festival's first ever in-house production, presented by its newly formed Handel Opera Studio framework. Performances will run from 28 Feb to 3 March 2023, as part of this year's festival.
Music director Laurence Cummings has written a blog for us about the show's creation. Here it is.
Initial meetings with the fabulous Adele Thomas to discuss a possible collaboration for London Handel Festival. This will be the Festival’s first home-produced piece of music theatre and it is a VERY exciting moment for us. I say 'music theatre' rather than 'opera', as Adele and I have begun talking about choosing four of Handel’s fabulous cantatas and knitting them together to form the basis of a devised show. Handel wrote around 100 cantatas and they are like mini operas, mostly for solo singer and small orchestral forces.
7 July 2022
Adele visits me at home in East Sussex and we spend a day glued to the harpsichord, finalising our choice of cantatas and going through each text with a fine tooth comb, marvelling at Handel’s setting of these dramatic stories. What seems simple and almost naive on the page becomes vivid and full of raw emotion when you pick it apart.
We have great fun playing with the order that the cantatas might be placed. This part of the process is like fantasy football; money no object (we get brought back down to earth soon enough) and general blue sky thinking. Maybe we could commission a composer to write some linking material between the cantatas? Should we have a dancer to embody the silent characters in each cantata?
We read that one of the cantatas, ‘Il delirio amoroso’, was originally sung by a castrato. It lies pretty high vocally and these days is normally sing by a soprano. Nevertheless we allow ourselves to wonder if if could be sung by a male singer; a counter-tenor with an extraordinary range in terms of both emotion and tessitura.
Dare we hope that Patrick Terry might be free and interested? We worked with him on Berenice, a co-production between LHF and ROH and we both get ridiculously overexcited at the prospect of working with him again.
11 July 2022
Adele and I meet Patrick and he sings through the cantata. He thinks that he will have to transpose certain passages but I have already anticipated this. How about we perform the whole evening at a lower pitch? It would suit the darkness that pervades the cantatas; low and behold it turns out that at A=392, a tone lower than modern pitch and a regular baroque pitch (particularly in France) it fits Patrick’s voice like a hand in a glove. Patrick is free and interested. Boom! We have one of our cast.
The rest of the summer and autumn are spent casting and working out the key creative elements. Adele has assembled a wonderful team to make this magical piece of theatre come to life and thank goodness they are all miracle workers, as we have ambitious plans and as usual, a finite budget!
More like this
3 January 2023
We have our first orchestral session to workshop the new music, composed by Héloïse Werner, that will link the four cantatas. It’s a train strike day and I leave East Sussex at 430am so that I can drive to the end of the northern line. I AM NOT GOING TO BE LATE FOR THIS CALL!
The music is stunning. We have assembled a bespoke orchestra of young musicians who will all be part of the dramatic action. We try out the new material and have a lot of fun making the musical choices. We are also working in Stone Nest, the show’s venue, for the first time. The building was, by turns, a former Welsh Chapel, decommissioned in the 1950s and then a nightclub in the 90s. As soon as we start to play, everyone senses the atmosphere and visceral connections between the instrumentalists. This is incredibly exciting.
26 January 2023
Rehearsals start in earnest. For the first three days Stone Nest is unavailable so we work around the table in a fairly sterile studio. We do good work but have the usual ‘first day at school’ nerves. What have we taken on? How will we have enough time? Are we up to this? The doubts never leave you!
30 January 2023
We move into Stone Nest to rehearse and all doubts disappear. We have a lot of work to do of course, but it feels like the building is on our side and almost willing us on. The musical drama is fabulous and our cast is brave and so talented. Exciting times!
For more info, visit london-handel-festival.com/forces-of-nature/
Pic of Laurence Cummings by Anton Säckl
- Black composers showcased in new choral anthology
- London Philharmonic Orchestra announces Cuban-American composer Tania León as next Composer-in-Residence
- Anna Lapwood signs to Sony Classical
- Benefit concert for Ukraine to take place in Amsterdam on 24 February
- Víkingur Ólafsson is International Nordic Person of the Year
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.