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Handel, Theodora: (Concert Versions) Soloists, Gabrieli Consort and Players. Conductor: Paul McCreesh , Teatro Real de Madrid 7.10.2009 (JMI) 


Theodora: Renata Pokupic.

Irene: Anna Stephany.

Didymus: Iestyn Davies.

Septimius: John Mark Ainsley.

Valens: Simon Kirkbride.

Messenger: Richard Rowntree.

As has become usual in recent years, Madrid's Teatro Real has  decided again to produce some of its season’s operas as concert versions. This year the choices are two operas by Bellini, Norma and I Puritani, and two by Handel, Agrippina and Theodora.

is one of the oratorios that Handel wrote during his time in London, works taking this form more for economic than for artistic reasons. In fact, Theodora has been performed on stage several times:  I remember having seen it at Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga some 7 years ago and in the same year it was the opera that inaugurated the Salzburg Summer Festival in a new production by Christof Loy. It is not, from my point of view, one of Handel’s most inspired works, although the musical quality is always there, because the action is distinctly static. Apart from some choral numbers, generally incidental and brief, the opera is a succession of recitatives and arias – no less than 25 in all - together with three duets, all of them involving the protagonist.

This performance was in the hands of British conductor Paul McCreesh with his Gabrieli Consort and Players, groups that he founded in 1982. Paul McCreesh is a very safe conductor, if slightly lacking the kind of spark that inflames audiences. Here,  everything was very clean and controlled, but I am afraid that  this opera/oratorio to needs more if it is to come to life seriously: Mr McCreesh failed to provide the necessary extra impetus to avoid some monotonous moments.

Of the Gabrieli groups, I preferred the Consort to the Players. The latter are a good enough baroque orchestra, without quite reaching the exceptional quality of some of their rivals. On the other hand, I found the Consort to be an exceptional chorus, extremely musical throughout the performance.

The vocal cast was well suited to their roles in all cases, being well-balanced, and including some excellent singers. The protagonist Theodora was Croatian mezzo soprano Renata Pokupic, who has a beautiful voice and is a very good performer. This young singer is becoming ever more  important in this kind of music. Irene, Theodora’s friend, was performed by the young English mezzo soprano Anna Stephany, who made a very good impression on me.Her voice is not large, but she sings with good taste and much expressiveness.

Didymus, the chaste Theodora’s friend, was the British countertenor Iestyn Davies, who was extremely convincing and sang  very well. We'll have another opportunity to see him again next month in Agrippina which should be well worth a visit. Another Briton, tenor John Mark Ainsley, was a convincing Septimius (the good Roman officer) with his vocal agility and great musicality. He has developed into a most interesting singer over the last 12 years.  Valens, the bad guy in the plot, was interpreted by bass baritone Simon Kirkbride, who also was convincing in this role.

The Teatro Real was almost full for the first act, but yet  again there were numerous desertions after the intermission. There was a warm reception for the artists, who did not take personal bows. The greatest applause went to the Gabrieli Consort.

José M Irurzun

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