Theodora In Concert

By George Frideric Handel and Thomas Morrell. Opera Australia and Pinchgut Opera. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 8-9 February, 2024

Reviewed : 8 February, 2024*

Photo : Keith Saunders

Handel’s dramatic oratorio Theodora was first performed in Covent Garden in 1750. It is in English, set to the libretto by Thomas Morell. It is said that Handel considered it his best work, though history would seem to favour Messiah. It is Handel’s only tragic oratorio and the only one written in English.

Set in Rome, in the 4th century AD, it tells the story of the Christian martyr Theodora who refuses to pay homage to the Roman god, Venus, and is executed with her Roman lover Didymus, who has secretly converted to Christianity.

Photo : Keith Saunders

This is the first time Opera Australia and Pinchgut Opera have ‘joined forces’ and the first time Pinchgut has performed in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Being ‘in concert’ means there is a chance to see Orchestra of the Antipodes and their incredible period instruments ‘up close’ on stage – and be awed by Pinchgut’s talented director Erin Helyard, along with the twenty professional singers of the Cantillation and five acclaimed soloists.

In deep tones, bass David Greco, as the governor of Antioch Valens, issues his dark proclamation that anyone who does not sacrifice to his Roman god Venus will be executed.

Roman soldier Septimius, performed by tenor Michael Petruccelli, has the dreaded task of carrying out his orders. Didymus – countertenor Christopher Lowery – pleads to no avail for his Christian friends to be exempted from the decree.

Photo : Keith Saunders

Soprano Samantha Clarke as Theodora is at prayer with her friend Irene (mezzo soprano Helen Sherman) when they hear the proclamation. Together they refuse to obey the order, sealing Theodora’s eventual fate.

Behind them the members of the Cantillation watch and listen carefully, rising to echo aspects of the story.

Controlling all is the elegant Erin Helyard, guiding fluidly and expressively – and also playing the Chamber Organ. It is always a joy to watch Helyard in action.

Hopefully this will be just the first of OA and Pinchgut in collaboration.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening production