Barrie Kosky, who is making his Glyndebourne debut with the house’s first production of Handel’s Saul this week, says in the programme that when you put Handel’s oratorios on stage there will be a “flood of opera reviewers” who will protest that the composer’s oratorios were not written for the opera house. Not so here: Peter Sellars’ Theodora at Glyndebourne and Robert Carsen’s Semele at the ENO – both oratorios – seem to us amongst the greatest productions of the past 20 years, and Kosky’s take on Saul, surely the work with the highest number of perfect Handel arias, is eagerly anticipated.
Kosky certainly has an impressive record: currently Intendant at the Komische Oper, Berlin, he was named Opera Director of the Year at the 2014 International Opera Awards. His reputation is for thought-provoking productions which, from the sound of his own forthright views, reject the stereotypical ‘modern’ style which crams the stage with men in suits gabbling into mobile ‘phones. He has previously directed Shakespeare’s King Lear, and has commented on the obvious similarities in the two works in terms of such themes as family tragedy, power and the lack of a maternal figure.
Glyndebourne has assembled a starry cast of mostly British Handelians to complement this new staging. Iestyn Davies, last season’s much-praised Rinaldo, will sing the role of David, who gets the lion’s share of the work’s sublime arias, with ‘O Lord, Whose Mercies Numberless’ likely to be a high point, and Christopher Purves, who gives a superb performance as Saul on the recording by The Sixteen, takes on the role of the domineering patriarch. Saul’s eldest daughter Merab is sung by another Glyndebourne favourite, Lucy Crowe, and her sister Michal, ‘As mild as she is fair,’ will be the house debut role for Sophie Bevan. John Graham-Hall is luxury casting as the Witch of Endor, and the American tenor Paul Appleby makes his UK debut in the role of Jonathan, another part graced with sublime arias. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be conducted by the renowned Handel specialist Ivor Bolton.
Music-lovers will be familiar with the most famous piece in Saul, the solemn, grief-laden Dead March, but there is so much more to the work than marvellous set pieces and arias; the characters of Saul and his daughters, and of David and Jonathan are fascinatingly drawn, and the choral music is amongst the finest Handel ever wrote. Winton Dean compared the work to King Lear and the Oresteia, calling it ” …one of the supreme masterpieces of dramatic art.” You’ll be able to judge for yourself from Thursday July 23rd, with a further 12 performances ending on August 29th.
Booking information can be found here: glyndebourne.com/tickets-and-whats-on/events/2015/saul/