Magazine article Opera Canada

Austria: Salzburg

Magazine article Opera Canada

Austria: Salzburg

Article excerpt

German director Christof Loy is obviously in the camp of those who consider Handel's oratorios as opera manque, having already staged Saul in Munich and now Theodora at last summer's Salzburg Festival (seen Aug. 6).

Theodora, set in Antioch in 305 AD, deals with the Christian princess who refuses to sacrifice to the god Jupiter. She is arrested by Septimius, a Roman officer, and sentenced to enforced prostitution by the Roman governor, Valens. She escapes with the help of Didymus, a soldier friend of Septimius and also a Christian. Didymus is brought before Valens, as Theodora turns herself in. Valens sentences them to death, and they die as martyrs. Staging Theodora offers a rare opportunity to hear its ravishing music, but traps lie in wait.

Even though this tale of love of God over carnal love has the makings of opera, it was never conceived as acted drama. So Handel handles the chorus differently. In Parts I and II, the choristers sing out of both sides of their collective mouths. They are in turn heathens, then Christian adherents. Having the same choir sing both "roles," as Salzburg did, creates confusion in the context of staged opera.

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Further, the oratorio is concerned more with inner convictions rather than physical actions. Viewing Loy's staging was akin to watching paint dry. In the Overture, the chorus was in tableau for both the Trio and the musically contrasting Courante. In Valens's air, "Wide Spread his Name," Loy's tableau of the chorus men on top of the women symbolized Theodora's fate in the brothel.

Annette Kurz's set had oratorio written all over it, three tiers of black risers running the length of the Grosses Fest-spielhaus stage. There were also chairs that the choristers occasionally pulled up and a gigantic Cavaille Coll-like pipe organ facade rising at the rear. …

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