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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.