George Frideric Handel, libretto by Thomas Morell
MusikTheater an der Wien
MusiktTheater an der Wien, Austria

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The Cast of Theodora Credit: Operavision
The Cast of Theodora Credit: Operavision
The Cast of Theodora Credit: Operavision
The Cast of Theodora Credit: Operavision

Handel’s Theodora, which tells the story of the persecution and martyrdom of a Christian saint in Antioch in the 4th century AD, premièred in London in 1750. It was Handel’s favourite oratorio; but not the public’s and it flopped. It was not revived again until late in the 20th century.

Theodora was a woman of noble birth who converted to Christianity and refused to make sacrifices to Jupiter. She was arrested. Faced with the prospect of rape by Roman soldiers and a future life of compulsory prostitution, she opted for death. She was joined by her lover, Didymus, a Roman centurion, who had also secretly become a Christian.

Stefan Herheim’s production, conducted by Bejun Mehta and designed by Silke Bauer, sets the action in modern times in a beautifully arched cathedral which had been converted into a smart Viennese coffee house.

Valens, the brutal Governor of Antioch, has been turned into the head waiter of this establishment. The lead characters are now all waiters. Evan Hughes is Valens. Jacquelyn Wagner is Theodora. Christopher Lowrey is Didymus. David Portillo is Septimus, Didymus’s best mate.

The chorus is the café’s clientele. They sit at tables, chatting, drinking and reading newspapers, a permanent fixture. At one point, led by the waiters, they strip to their underwear. They are rewarded with delicious cakes.

Handel’s music and the singing, solo and choral, is often sublime. Herheim’s production is fascinating to watch, even when it is not always clear what is actually going on, either materially or spiritually.

Handel’s Theodora can be watched free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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