The problem with Sunday afternoon’s presentation by The English Concert of Handel’s Theodora was not in the playing of the orchestra, led by Harry Bicket. Nor was the problem the singers which included international stars such as countertenor David Daniels, mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly, and German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. Lastly, the problem was not the fault of the magnificent Choir of Trinity Wall Street, prepared by Julian Wachner. The problem with Sunday's concert was time. Not the four hour duration of the piece, but the amount of time that has passed since the piece premiered in 1749. Time that has progressed musical styles and genres, and that has demanded more complex and engaging plots that evoke a stronger emotional response than a yawn.
This fact was made clearer and clearer as the mostly sold-out audience dwindled with each intermission. It takes a special kind of devotee to stay awake the entire time through a Handel epic, and it seemed most of them were there that day.
I must make it clear that the artists on stage were not the detractors. It was merely the source material, and the un-relatability, coupled with the lack of staging, that spelled the downfall of the evening. Of course this is how an oratorio is supposed to be staged, however, therein lies the point.
Not that there is no place for Handel in today’s world. Every Christmas season his Messiah is heard in every hamlet in every corner of the globe. And his opera’s bode very well at venues like the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and, indeed, Houston Grand Opera. But the lesser-knowns are as such for a reason. Of course, this does not mean they should be put on the shelf for the rest of eternity. Let them be heard! Exposure to this kind of music is wonderful for all people, but perhaps they should rent cushions in the lobby beforehand.
There were several stand-out moments. Both duets between Ms. Röschmann and Mr. Daniels were superb examples of the baroque style. And Ms. Connolly’s aria in the first act showed her warm voice off splendidly. The sound produced by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street was simply stunning; a real solid choir sound that is rare to find, professional or otherwise.
Baritone Neal Davies found it necessary to bark all of his lines to emphasize the drama. Which, though certainly dramatic, grew tiresome over the four hours. Kurt Streit added a very strong tenor voice that received very warm and welcome praise from the audience.
The real tragedy in all of this was the fact this music is no longer in fashion. Otherwise, it would have made sitting through it a little less uncomfortable…
For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.
For more information about David Daniels, click here.
For more information about Dorothea Röschmann, click here.
Fore more information about Sarah Connelly, click here.