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.