Handel considered Theodora his masterpiece. But when it was first performed in 1750 it was a flop. Yet, while the composer may or may not have received his reward in heaven after such critical disapprobation, today the work is recognised as, well, a masterpiece. Its poignant story of selfless love and Christian steadfastness in the face of Roman persecution ends with the soon-to-be-martyrs confident the virtuous shall receive their reward in heaven.
Peter Sellars’ ground-breaking 1996 Glyndebourne production of Theodora is the benchmark by which any new staging must be measured. I didn’t see this 2016 Pinchgut production directed by Lindy Hume, but it was by all accounts a triumph. Certainly, judging from this live recording it must have been as theatrically compelling as it was musically.
Valda Wilson’s Theodora is as dignified as one could wish for, while Christopher Lowrey’s Roman soldier and Christian Didymus is conflicted yet ultimately resolute. Their singing is a joy from start to finish, and their final duet Thither let our hearts aspire is one of the highlights. Caitlin Hulcup as fellow Christian Irene is another standout – listen to her exquisite As with rosy steps the morn. Ed Lyon as sympathetic Roman solider Septimius and Andrew Collis as Roman governor Valens are dramatically strong if vocally less focused. The utterly thrilling playing and singing of the Orchestra of the Antipodes and Cantillation under Erin Helyard are beyond criticism.