Opera Scotland

Athalia 2014Ludus Baroque

Read more about the opera Athalia

Word seemed to have got round about the quality of the ground-breaking performance by Ludus Baroque of The Triumph of Time and Truth in May. A large audience attended their return visit, when, under director Richard Neville-Towle, they moved on to revive another Handelian rarity in the dramatic oratorio Athalia, derived from Racine's late tragedy. It seems likely that this was a Scottish premiere, and a very welcome one, of a work composed when he was at the height of his operatic success. Indeed the heroine even bears similarities in voice and character to the title role of Alcina.

This performance, with its range of mighty opportunities for the chorus, featured the combined forces of local choirs Horsecross Voices and Chansons, joining with the Ludus Baroque team into a combination of forty-two singers. They had been expertly drilled in a series of workshops by bass Will Dawes, and made a big sound that still maintained absolute clarity in the excellent St John's acoustic.

The company has the good fortune to work regularly with a group of soloists who seem to be able and willing to find room in bulging performance diaries to return for a few days. Long may this continue. Anna Dennis, in the title role, sang beautifully, as she had in May. She provided more vocal decoration than the other soloists, especially in her air 'My vengeance awakes me' - an entirely appropriate distinction of the decadent and pleasure-loving Baal-worshipper. Her adviser Mathan, a defector from the Jewish cause, was sung by Ed Lyon, whose tenor rang out most effectively, while still succeeding in injecting a sneer into his tone as appropriate.

Another familiar voice was the sweet-toned counter-tenor Andrew Radley, remembered from several previous Handel roles at the Edinburgh Festival and Scottish Opera. As the persistently 'good' priest Joad, it was perhaps more difficult to make this consistent character interesting, even when his music was varied. This was less of a problem for the excellent baritone William Berger. Starting ostensibly as a follower of Athalia, and essentially a spy, he quickly realises the error of his ways but manages to retain a sense of ambivalence. The technical facility required for this part was quite unusual, and the fluidity of his delivery of this demanding music very pleasing.

The other roles had less to do. Indeed Josabeth only has one brief air at the beginning and a short duet with the treble near the end, so the opportunity was taken to divide the part between two excellent young choristers. This seems a perfectly acceptable practice. The young treble, Jacob Slater, as the boy king Joas, raised in secret to ensure his safety, revealed a sweet tone and a good level of confidence, though his voice may not quite have projected to the back of the church.

In all, this was a superb example of an excellent performance of an unjustly neglected work being appreciated by a large audience. Perth being centrally located, there seems little reason why it should not become a venue for more such events in future.

Performance Cast

Josabeth wife of Joad

Nicola Corbishley

Emma Versteeg

Abner captain of the Jewish forces

William Berger

Joad high priest

Andrew Radley

Athalia Baalite queen of Judah and daughter of Jezebel

Anna Dennis

Mathan priest of Baal, formerly a Jewish priest

Ed Lyon

Joas king of Judah

Jacob Slater

Performance DatesAthalia 2014

Map List

St John's Kirk | Perth

6 Aug, 19.30

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