Michael White’s classical news: Theodora; Iestyn Davies; Domenico Scarlatti; La Boheme

Thursday, 27th January — By Michael White

Julia Bullock

Julia Bullock, Theodora

HANDEL’S oratorios aren’t what you’d think of as a Parental Guidance matter but the new production of his Theodora, staged at Covent Garden, comes with a surprise warning that it’s unsuitable for children – which suggests that the director Katie Mitchell won’t be pulling punches in the way she tells the story.

Theodora is an early Christian heroine in ancient Rome where she refuses to celebrate the pagan gods, gets forced to serve time in a brothel, and is subsequently martyred – along with a soldier who tries to help her. As lives of the saints go, it’s par for the course. But Mitchell is apparently giving it a more contemporary, more political, and more feminist reading as a story of resistance to colonial oppression, so it may end up as something rather different to what Handel thought he was writing in 1750. But no matter.

Theodora isn’t often staged, but when Glyndebourne did it back in the 1990s – in a similarly radical realisation by Peter Sellars – it proved one of the most memorable productions the company has ever done. And with a choice cast that includes American superstar soprano Joyce DiDonato, countertenor of the moment Jakub Jozef Orlinski, and Julia Bullock in the title role, this new Royal Opera show may just deliver something of comparable stature.

It’s certainly a fabulous score – which is as well because it lasts four hours (including intervals). And what adds to the sense of event is that although Theodora premiered at Covent Garden back in the mid-18th century, it has never played there since. So take note – not least, of the early start time: 6pm on opening night, Jan 31. Runs to Feb 16. roh.org.uk

It’s a good week for collecting countertenors, because alongside Orlinski’s aerial virtuosity at Covent Garden you can hear his British rival Iestyn Davies in concert at Wigmore Hall – singing the soulful repertoire of Dowland and other renaissance composers with lutenist Thomas Dunford. This kind of music doesn’t deliver Handelian fireworks but it’s haunting, heartfelt and seductive. Jan 28. wigmore-hall.org.uk

Also at the Wigmore this Sunday afternoon is an unusual event designed to transport you back to the year 1822: the year when a group of London music-lovers got together and created what is now the Royal Academy of Music – which is accordingly celebrating its bicentenary.

Sunday’s event launches the celebrations by gathering some of the RAM’s best student singers and pianists for a programme of Schubert songs written in that same year, 1822. And though it wasn’t the best time in Schubert’s tragically short life, it was a productive one, with some very great songs flowing from his pen. Find out at 3pm, Jan 30.

• One of London’s other conservatoires, the Guildhall School, has a substantial event of its own this Sunday, with an entire afternoon devoted to in-depth examination of the keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti. You can hear it three ways: on a modern piano, an early fortepiano, and a harpsichord – the last played by arguably the most dynamic and erudite, if polemical, harpsichordist of today, Mahan Esfahani, who will probably tell you that the only way to hear this music is his own. Starts 2pm,
Jan 30, Milton Court. Details: barbican.org.uk

Christmas may be over but it lives on, indestructibly, in Act II of Puccini’s La Boheme – where the streets of Paris will once again be swept with snow and festive cheer as Jonathan Miller’s classic staging returns to English National Opera. If you’ve somehow managed never to see this production before, now is the time. Runs Jan 31 to Feb 27. eno.org

Related Articles