Handel's 'Theodora' Review

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Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Mark Hindley (Chorusmaster)
Kenneth Montgomery (Conductor); Susan Gritton (Theodora); Christine Rice (Irene); lestyn Davies (Didymus); Joshua Ellicott (Septimius, Messenger); David Wilson-Johnson (Valens); Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Scottish Chamber Orchestra Choir
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George Frideric Handel was one of the most prolific Baroque composers of the eighteenth century. Of German descent, he became a British citizen in 1927 and wrote an abundance of operas and oratorios, notably the Messiah, first performed in Dublin in 1742.

Theodora, Handel’s second last oratorio, and one of his favourites, was composed in just a month in the summer of 1749. (The libretto was written by Thomas Morell, based on a text by the seventeeth century writer Robert Boyle.)

Handel’s only dramatic oratorio based on a Christian theme, the three-act Theodora tells the tale of a Christian princess condemned to slavery as a temple prostitute by Valens, the Roman President of Antioch, for refusing to offer incense to the Roman gods as a sign of allegiance to the Emperor. Didymus, a Roman soldier who has converted to Christianity, attempts to help her escape at the cost of his own freedom. The piece ends in tragedy with both Didymus and Theodore condemned to death for being Christians.

A rarely performed "sacred" piece, it was a welcome occasion to hear it with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, their choir and high calibre soloists. Particularly memorable were Susan Gritton, whose rich contralto voice aptly conveyed the plight of Theodore’s situation, the beautiful, pure, agile voice of the countertenor, lestyn Davies as Didymus and the mezzo soprano Christine Rice as Irene.

The fine voices of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra chorus, under the direction of chorusmaster Mark Hindley, effectively enhanced the pathos of the piece, as did the SCO musicians who played the continuo throughout. Under the baton of guest conductor Kenneth Montgomery, who has worked with most of the renowned operatic companies, the whole oratorio blended into a most memorable evening.

Tour date: Friday 30 November, City Halls