Christof Loy’s production of Handel’s late oratorio Theodora was a critical and popular success at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and deservedly so. That said, certain decisions seem a bit perverse. The G minor organ concerto HWV 310 is interpolated in Part 3, which is fine, but why cut a fine number like “Bane of virtue” in Part 1 or “Whither, Princess,do you Fly?” in Part 3? There are a bunch of other, rather odd, cuts in Part 3. Still it doesn’t do serious damage to a fine performance of an interesting production.
Loy’s concept is fairly minimalist and involves a lot of chairs (hints of Robert Carsen). He uses the vast Grossesfestspielhaus stage to create distance in which he creates islands of intimacy; tender when Didymus and Theodora or Didymus and Septimius are involved, decidedly creepy when it’s Valens and Theodora. Everybody is dressed rather like a Salzburg audience and there are definite points where the lines between audience and stage are blurred; for example when Irene sings “lord to Thee” very directly to the audience from the front of the stage and at the very end where all the members of the cast have heir backs to the audience. The story telling within this general framework is fairly conventional although Valens gets a rather over the top treatment. It’s hard to tell whether he’s mad or drunk or both but he’s definitely got the hots for Theodora and does a lot of leering and groping. Overall it’s more abstract then Peter Sellars’ Glyndebourne production and doesn’t riff off the “no friend to Caesar who owns not Caesar’s gods” as heavily.
There are some strong performances too. At the heart is Christine Schäfer’s touchingly vulnerable and finely sung Theodora, She’s well matched by Bejun Mehta’s almost ethereal Didymus. He too has real vulnerability; perhaps even too much. It’s hard to see him as the battle hardened veteran of the libretto. Joseph Kaiser is a very photogenic and well sung, if rather straightforward, Septimius. Bernarda Fink is a very adequate Irene but she’s not quite in the same class as the late Lorraine Hunt for Sellars. But then no-one could be expected to match that performance. Johannes Martin Kränzle gets to do the scenery chewing as the OTT Valens. He pulls it off really well while singing very musically. He is very creepy! There’s some splendid singing and playing too from the Freiburger Barockorchester and the Sazlburger Bachchor. The chorus is also very effective dramatically, coveying real menace when portraying the townspeople of Antioch. Ivor Bolton has the musical direction and he’s really good. He brings out the pathos and drama in this beautiful score really well.Janes McVinnie is the solist in the Organ Concerto and he’s very able.
Hannes Rossacher does a great job as video director. He reproduces Loy’s concept faithfully always showing us the big picture but also illustrating the intimacy. he also collaborates in breaking down the stage/audience barrier. he’s backed up by a really good HD picture. It looks pretty decent on DVD and I’m sure it’s even better on the Blu-ray. The DTS sound too is exceptionally spacious and vivid. The only extras on the disk are some trailers and the documentation is functional rather than enlightening. There are English, French, Spanish and German subtitles.
I strongly recommend this disk. It doesn’t replace Sellars’ brilliant production or, above all, Lorraine Hunt’s transcendent performance but it’s fit to stand alongside it. It also has the big advantage of modern sound and picture quality which, I would expect, would be even betteron the Blu-ray.