Opera Scotland

Theodora 2015Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Read more about the opera Theodora

Handel was here shown at his best in this memorable concert.

The decision of the SCO to include Theodora in its main season is further evidence of the growing acceptance of this great work into the repertoire. Its approval as a staged operatic work began with the famous Peter Sellars interpretation at Glyndebourne, with a memorably great trio of lead singers (Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and David Daniels). This production had a single performance with the touring cast in Edinburgh back in 2003. Since then, the work has also found acceptance at Salzburg. It was therefore good to see the 'original' concert presentation - which is not to suggest any lack of drama in this performance.

The cast was largely unfamiliar, but achieved a uniformly high standard. Neal Davies was the one performer to have appeared frequently in Scotland, and had the benefit of great familiarity with the role of Valens, through a recording and performances in Salzburg and elsewhere. His villain came over as a three-dimensional character, not merely a callous anti-Christian bigot, but a genuine believer in the old Roman gods. Iestyn Davies has now become one of the leading interpreters of demanding Handel parts, and Didymus found him on superb mellifluous form, with no difficulty projecting music or words in the City Hall acoustic.

The others were excellent. Canadian Stefanie True and Croation Renata Pokupić both communicated admirably, with beautiful sweet singing in 'Angels ever bright and fair' and the atmospheric 'As with rosy steps the morn' being particular highlights. Samuel Boden, a light-toned tenor, had no difficulties vocally, and projected the essential ambiguity of this interesting, guilt-ridden character.

The final sequence of arias and duets as Septimius pleads, Valens condemns and the lead pair accept their fate all built to a superb climax with the final duet, Irene's benediction and the closing chorus.

Handel was shown at his superb best.

The director, Harry Bicket, an infrequent visitor here, was a late replacement for the originally announced Richard Egarr, and the SCO were extremely lucky to find available such a reputable Handelian, with extensive experience of this rare work. The orchestra and chorus were on top form, sensitive to every nuance of this great baroque masterpiece. One novelty was to see the chorus blended in personnel - no serried phalanxes of soprano, alto, tenor and bass here, but all mixed up apparently at random. Was it imagination, or did this really lead to a particularly cohesive blend of the choral voices?

The audience was clearly gripped from first to last by what can seem a difficult work - most of the music slow, the theme very dark. Applause at the end was hugely enthusiastic, and deservedly so.

Performance Cast

Valens President of Antioch

Neal Davies

Septimius a Roman officer, and friend of Didymus

Samuel Boden

Didymus a Roman officer, secretly converted by, and in love with, Theodora

Iestyn Davies

Theodora Princess of Antioch, a Christian

Stefanie True

Irene friend of Theodora, a Christian

Renata Pokupić


Samuel Boden

Performance DatesTheodora 2015

Map List

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

22 Oct, 19.30

City Halls, Glasgow | Glasgow

23 Oct, 19.30

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