Frank and I saw a concert performance of this Handel oratorio at Alice Tully Hall on 10/31. It was done by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, a French orchestra and opera group that specializes in Baroque opera. Karen Miller and I saw their production of *Atys* at BAM a few years ago, and it would probably make the top five greatest performances I've seen in my life. I'd never seen such a genius melding of all of the elements that go into an opera: the orchestra, the singing, the dancing, the acting, the design, it all worked together in the most extraordinary way.
I have never been a huge fan of the orchestral experience, so I was a little shocked that the greatest element of *Theodora* was the orchestra. Right from the overture, they knocked it out of the park. They play in such a ferocious way. Baroque music is often overly delicate, and though they were occasionally delicate, they were also bold, strong, and full of color. They were a joy to watch, and, this being a semi-staged concert performance, they were right there on the stage. I'll give you one example: they had a young guy playing the archlute, a large lute. The few times I've seen a lutenist in concert, it's been played lightly, with seemingly just the fingertips. Well, the lutenist in *Theodora* was really strumming the hell out of that thing.
One other note while I'm talking about the orchestra: ordinarily, in an orchestra concert, the orchestra is sitting onstage while the audience gets seated, and then the performance starts when the concertmaster comes onstage and they start tuning. This time the stage was empty and the whole orchestra walked onstage together, and the audience applauded. I don't think I'd ever seen that before, and I liked it. It seemed to set the tone.
The singers were all very good, and very young - - I don't think any of them was over 40, and one or two of them may not have been 30. Christie is getting up there in years, and I imagine he's energized by working with young singers, and mentoring them. They all came across as being artists in development, which can be exciting as an audience member, you have the thrill of discovery.
Philippe Jaroussky was the one name I knew going into the performance, he's the counter tenor flavor of the month. He has a sweet voice, perfect for this role. He got a little hooty now and then, but it didn't bother me too much. Soprano Katherine Watson played Theodora, she was lovely, gave the most detailed performance of the evening. I'd love to see her again. Stephanie d'Oustrac was the mezzo. She generally sang beautifully, but sometimes pressed on the low notes, and now and then seemed to be singing through the role rather than actively making music. Frank brought up Stephanie Blythe, one of the greatest mezzos at the Met - - she would tear the joint apart in this role.
Kresimir Spicer was the tenor. Nice voice, but sometimes didn't seem to have the surest sense of what he was doing with it. He either sang full out, with a strong voice and firm line, or he sang very quietly, almost inaudibly. Not a lot in between. Frank pointed out that some of the singers were singing with their heads, especially in the florid passages - - take note: all those little notes are not produced by moving your head around! The tenor was the worst culprit that way. Lastly, Callum Thorpe was the bass, and he was our favorite. Gorgeous full, rich voice, and a sure command of what he was doing. Of course he had the smallest role, what a shame.
The credit for the show goes to William Christie, the conductor and artistic director of Les Arts Florissants. He is one of a kind, and I need to hear him every time he comes to town.