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David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2012

Though Theodora was to prove a major failure during its lifetime, it is said that Handel regarded it as his finest oratorio. Until quite recently posterity had taken its time to agree with his opinion, that change of inclination having largely come about by several outstanding recordings. Handel seemingly wrote the music in just four weeks of 1749—ten years before his death—the text coming from the Anglican cleric, Thomas Morell. Its content borders on opera, and several attempts have been made to present it on stage, though in either form its length of around three hours—not counting the time for two intervals—is as much a challenge to the audience as it is to the performers.The story, set in Syria in Roman times, recalls the persecution of Christians leading to the death of Theodora and her beloved Didymus for disobeying the commands of the Roman governor, Valens. It calls for a soprano with the vocal recourses that can encompass Theodora’s eight substantial airs, including the highly attractive, Angels, ever bright and fair. In the light and limpid voice of Christina Wieland we have a characterisation of very gentle persuasions mixed with fatalism from the outset. The young counter-tenor, Franz Vitzthum, has a most attractive quality for Didymus, his Sweet rose and lily as beautiful as you could imagine. He gets around the vocal acrobatics with commendable agility, and the long duet at the end of the second act finds his voice blending most agreeably with Wieland. The fruity quality of Diana Schmid’s mezzo suits Theodora’s fellow Christian, Irene, her ability to reach forcefully into the upper-end of the range needed to balance out Wieland’s gentility. Knut Schoch, the tenor singing Septimius—one of the villains of the story—has the lyric and florid quality needed, though the pleasing bass-baritone of Klaus Merten’s hardly creates the evil intent of Valens, though the blame must be shared by Handel. Performing English oratorio with a German cast does pose diction problems and you need to download the words from the Naxos website. The release continues Joachim Carlos Martini’s mammoth project to record the complete Handel oratorios, Theodora taken from a concert performance in 2010. He generally uses brisk tempos, even when voices are adding florid decoration, and obtains commendable playing from the period instruments of the Frankfurt Baroque. Without any unwanted sounds, it has the quality of a studio recording, the balance between voices and orchestra being exemplary. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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