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4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Here for the first time on CD is Glyndebourne's acclaimed 1996 production of Handel's oratorio Theodora. Although Theodora is a story of a virtuous woman and sexual persecution, this has not proved to be an obstacle to its enduring success, the subject a deeply touching one, resonating from the age of antiquity to the present day. The recording is the debut on the Glyndebourne label for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, one of Glyndebourne's two resident orchestras. This audio release, in no way detracting from the extraordinary Peter Sellar's production, allows the focus to be on the soloists, conductor and orchestra. This recording confirms Lorraine Hunt as a true Handelian, capturing the spirit of Irene as few others could. In counter-tenor David Daniels as Didymus, there is a breadth of range drawing the listener away from the oft strained and forced falsetto sound. From the outset Dawn Upshaw is a heartfelt Theodora culminating magnificently in her final duet with Daniels `Thither let our hearts aspire.' the delivery, sensitivity and ensemble nothing short of numbing. There is no better choice of debut release from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on the Glyndebourne label, William Christie's musical approach one of transcendence, making the most of this wonderful music. Great opera performances are often fleeting moments in time but since 1960, every note of every Glyndebourne Festival performance has been recorded. `Eaves-dropping' on these live performances allows some of the most seminal opera performances of the last fifty years to be enjoyed by all. `.Musically and dramatically this production is flawless.' Andrew Clements, The Guardian

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4.0 out of 5 stars Could have been great July 1 2013
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This live recording of Theodora has the strongest cast of any recording of Handel's great oratorio. There's nary a weak link, and many of the performances are outstanding, particularly David Daniels' Didymus and the incomparable Handelian Lorraine Hunt as Irene. William Christie conducts with his usual sensitivity and thoughtfulness, particularly in Part II. So why did I not give this recording full marks? Well, for one this isn't the best miking I've heard - stage noises are often intrusive and occasionally the soloists are too far away from the mikes to be heard at their best. But that's a relatively minor quibble - the real problem is artistic director Peter Sellars, quite possibly the worst American export since Paris Hilton. He seems incapable of directing an opera without turning it into a critique of contemporary America.
Much of the music in Part I is interrupted by hooting and cheering from the chorus. Frode Olsen, an otherwise a terrific Valens, is made to perform the recitative "Ye men of Antioch" as a drunken boor. For some reason Sellars thought he could play this work for laughs, and he nearly ruins it - even on CD! Thankfully, Christie reasserts himself in Parts II and III, and some truly sublime music results.
Is this recording worth hearing? Absolutely. Worth owning? Probably, despite its faults. But is it a first choice? With both Paul McCreesh's and Christie's excellent studio recordings of this masterwork currently available, I'd have to say no.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who want glorious singing minus the visual distractions May 29 2012
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Handel's penultimate oratorio, despite being the composer's favourite, was a miserable failure lasting only three performances. Librettist Thomas Morell quotes Handel as saying "The Jews will not come to it because it is a Christian story; and the ladies will not come because it is a virtuous one." Its popularity was revived when it was staged by Glyndebourne as an opera in 1996 with an almost all-American cast. For those averse to Peter Sellars' production, with its depiction of a modern totalitarian state rather than presenting the authentic story of martyrdom by Roman persecution of Christians, this issue presents a preferable alternative to the DVD as it allows us to concentrate upon the production's musical values and ignore modish distractions. There is still rather too much audience noise and ambient rustling as well as persistent idiocies such as Sellars' having the chorus ape a Jeremy Kyle audience by whooping their approval of chief-Christian-basher Valens' bloodthirsty outbursts, but by and large the musical virtues of this performance fully justify its release on CD.

Never much of a fan of Dawn Upshaw, I concede that this is the finest thing I have heard from her; she sings with purity and feeling, although I still find her occasionally a little arch. Norwegian bass Frode Olsen is plausibly fanatical while still remaining elegant of voice. Richard Croft brings a very smooth, warm-toned tenor to bear on some very difficult music. But the two undoubted stars here are velvet-voiced mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt (before she became Hunt Lieberson) and the extraordinarily adept counter-tenor David Daniels. Both have such richness and evenness of tone coupled with a vivid sense of the dramatic and their two voices remain utterly distinctive in character. The chorus is superb: young and flexible-sounding; Christie directs a direct yet nuanced account using a relatively small orchestra without losing the requisite sense of grandeur and without any irritating HIP mannerisms such as bulges or clipped phrasing.

This is one of the most consistently inventive and arresting of Handel's oratorios; highlights include Irene's heart-stoppingly beautiful "As with rosy steps the morn", Didymus's "The raptur'd soul" and the sublime aria and duet for him and Theodora at the close of the work as they go to their deaths.

The packaging is very attractive: a tastefully produced bound booklet with the CDs in slipcases at the front and back, a full English libretto, synopsis and essay by Stanley Sadie.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding recording of this Baroque Opera Oct. 15 2012
By Warren Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This three disc set from the Glyndebourne Festival Opera of a 1996 production of this opera features a young David Daniels (countertenor), Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Richard Croft (tenor), and Lorraine Hunt (mezzo-soprano). This tale of Christian Martyrdom in and of itself is quite fitting for a production, but this cast just sizzles. David Daniels was certainly in fine voice on the day this was recorded, as his rich velvet countertenor caresses the ears while Handel's music touches the heart and mind. Dawn Upshaw and Richard Croft both do remarkable justice to their characters, but Lorraine Hunt has just an amazing voice - it is captivating, and with Handel the voices themselves are in good hands. William Christie conducts and performs on harpsichord, and his touch is sure and the sound of his instrument bright.

As is typical of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera recordings (of which I have several), the liner notes are excellent, documenting not only the historical information relevant to the creation of this piece but also providing the full text of the opera. Photographs of the production are also reproduced therein. And the recording quality is just simply outstanding.

This three disc set is a steal. It is captivating, thrilling, and provides a very satisfying listening experience. It makes you wish you had been there in person. Very highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best version overall. .. . . May 30 2013
By SB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
The McCreesh also great w/ Gritton & Christie ( H. M. version ) has wonderful moments as well & I have all, as this work is one of Handel's most sublime . .. .but this version transcendent . .. .& L. Hunt was at her best ever & Dawn Upshaw always exceptional as well!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not ready for prime time Feb. 11 2014
By steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Whoa! How come no one has mentioned that for a recording made in 1996, the engineers at Glyndebourne have produced a recording (acoustically) a rung below the first "talkies" of the 1930s? What a disappointment. I bought this after hearing a pirate recording on the web. You'd be better off down-loading that. Come on Glyndebourne, have a little integrity.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handel's Greatest Work. 6 stars !!! May 23 2013
By Chris Protopapas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Handel, when asked towards the end of his life what he thought his greatest work was, replied "Theodora". It's his next-to-last oratorio, and it is of such transcendant beauty that words fail to describe it. Everything that can be said about this performance has already been said better by others, so I won't even try. Peter Sellar's direction may not be to everyone's taste, but he had the vision to turn this English "Oratorio" into a viable stage piece, crucially giving Lorraine Hunt the opportunity to give her greatest dramatic performance. She's the star of this show, even if everyone else surpasses themselves as well. A sublime, overwhelming recording of Handel's greatest work. Not to be missed.
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