Dark, desperate, magnificent: Handel’s Jephtha, Iford

As Handel wrote Jephtha‘s haunting central chorus, “How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees,” his own sight temporarily failed him, and he had to break off work. Although he would live for another eight years, Jephtha would prove to be Handel’s last oratorio: a disturbing story from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges, in which the…

Small palette, big picture: Handel’s Acis and Galatea in Cambridge

Handel’s “little opera” Acis and Galatea suffers from something of an identity crisis: it exists in three versions, and has also been put forward as a candidate for at least three genres: masque, opera or serenata. It is certainly an unusual piece: small, with a fast-paced but surprisingly simple plot taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and voiced by the…

A dusty curio: Handel’s Berenice, regina d’Egitto

One of the main reasons Berenice, regina d’Egitto is performed so rarely is its notable lack of dramatic punch. Taut and skilful playing from La Nuova Musica, conducted from the harpsichord with joyful dynamism by David Bates, and some excellent singing, made for an evening of gorgeous music, if not dramatic excitement, at the Church…

Fool for love: Handel’s Orlando at the Barbican

Some operas are just begging for a strapline: and if Orlando had one, it would surely be “Dorinda’s Dreadful Day”. First, Dorinda is plagued by doubts that the handsome African prince Medoro truly loves her (which he doesn’t), but optimistically decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, because she loves him. Then she’s informed…

Power-dressed and power hungry: Handel’s Agrippina at Iford

Bruno Ravella has updated the action of Handel’s Agrippina to the consumerist hell of the 1980s, giving us big hair, shoulder pads, cocaine and ruthlessness in spades. Agrippina, immaculately coiffured and sharply suited, channels Alexis (Joan Collins in Dynasty) as she plots, bargains and schemes to ensure her son, Nerone, is proclaimed heir to Claudio’s…