Athalia: George Frideric Handel (1733)

Aparicio: Athaliah and Joash

★★★★

(29 April 2019, London Handel Singers and Orchestra at St John’s Smith Square)

The final event of my Handel Festival this year was Athalia, a Handel oratorio written in 1733 and first performed during his brief summer sojourn in Oxford. It’s a strange beast, with ingredients that would make for a splendid opera seria in the hands of Metastasio. Just think: a murderous queen who has wiped out her own grandchildren in order to rule Jerusalem; an heir to the throne raised in secret; the clash between the old Jewish religion and the newly-revived worship of Baal! Surely that’s crying out for at least a couple of overly showy arias?! However, such foreign indulgences were trimmed from Handel’s oratorios, reflecting the changing tastes of British audiences, and the exuberance of Italian libretti is replaced by a self-consciously worthy text adapted by Samuel Humphreys from Racine. It’s peppered by the kind of awkward 18th-century rhymes you can see approaching with grim determination from a mile away. Fortunately, Handel livens things up with fine music and reliably rousing choruses; and I confess that, by the end, my instinctive suspicions of the oratorio genre had softened. Somewhat.

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Semele: George Frideric Handel (1744)

Handel: Semele

★★★½

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 10 March 2015)

Let the London Handel Festival commence! Things got underway in suitably regal style at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with a tale of divine seduction and boundless ambition that bore a moralistic coda: be careful what you wish for.

Nature to each allots his proper sphere, But that forsaken,
we like meteors err: 
Toss’d through the void, by some rude
shock we’re broke, 
And all our boasted fire is lost in smoke.

(Chorus: Act 3, Scene 7)

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