After attending the performance of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Christ Church Cathedral, I can’t help quoting Dick O’Riordan’s words about the recent RIAM’s production of a Monteverdi’s opera (Il ballo delle ingrate): Theodora, too, “displayed once again what marvellous seams of musical gold and operatic nuggets continue to be mined from that era.”

A collaboration between the vocal ensemble Sestina Music and Irish Baroque Orchestra, the oratorio was presented in a staged version and set in contemporary times. Leaving aside the superfluous need to try and bring closer to us anything that in opera feels ‘old’, as well as the questionable but popular habit of dramatising the overture, the performance was superb.

The story tells of the Christian Theodora resisting the Romans’ order to worship the pagan gods, and of the converted Didimus, in love with her, ending up sacrificing his life together with Theodora in the vain attempt to save hers.

The young singers impressed. Countertenor Joseph Zubier as Didimus showed excellent singing and a promising voice. Peter Harris, as the compassionate Roman soldier Septimius, sang with conviction and control and displayed an alluring tenor voice. Bass Aaron O’Hare was a fitting Valens, the cruel officer.

Outstanding in the role of Theodora was Charlotte Trepress: her broad ranging soprano was always richly expressive and beautifully modulated, her performance culminating in the exquisite aria “Oh, that I on wings could rise”. The chorus was equally impressive. Conducted by Mark Chambers, finally, Irish Baroque Orchestra’s performance was as divine as Handel’s score.

If listening to Theodora alone, one could have a particularly hard time understanding all the blame thrown in the past on baroque music: superficial, overly ornamental and disjointed from reality. The infinitely intelligent writing of this work shows that ornamentation is not, necessarily, the opposite of substance.

 

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