Handel: Theodora

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Theodora
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer, Bejun Mehta, Joseph Kaiser, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Bernarda Fink, Ryland Davies; Salzburg Bach Choir; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Ivor Bolton; dir. Christof Loy (Salzburg Festival, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 705708 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

These days, directors often want to give such pieces such as Handel’s oratorio, Theodora, full-scale stagings. The results are mixed. Theodora has a narrative and characters, like an opera – its story presents the early Christian community in Antioch heroically withstanding Roman persecution. However, elements within it – the static choruses, for example – adapt poorly to theatrical treatment.
Peter Sellars’s production for Glyndebourne (available on Warner Classics) probably got nearer than this 2009 Christof Loy Salzburg staging, which he himself suggests is ‘almost like an installation’. Annette Kurz’s set, with its enormous organ pipes, and Ursula Renzenbrink’s formal, contemporary costumes both strike a note of artificiality.
The performances are generally dramatically real, if not quite in the vocal league Glyndebourne’s cast manages at its best. Despite the sincerity of her acting, Christine Schäfer’s interpretation of the title role is compromised by her inscrutable English and some occluded tone. Given the similar heavy accent of Johannes Martin Kränzle’s flippant, leering bully of a Roman governor, it might have been better to employ more Anglophone singers in the cast.
As Theodora’s supportive fellow-Christian, Irene, Bernarda Fink provides artistic certainty without effacing memories of Glyndebourne’s Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Outstanding is Bejun Mehta’s sweet-toned yet dynamic Didymus. Ivor Bolton secures an efficient musical performance. George Hall