Monday, May 15, 2017

Handel's Resurrection

Two Sundays ago at St. Marks Lutheran Church, the American Bach Soloists offered a splendid performance of an early (1708) Handel oratorio, La Resurrezione. The previous evening I heard the SF Symphony in a Requiem by Berlioz, so a Handel Resurrection the next afternoon felt like an unintentionally perfect double bill.

As far as Passions of Christ go, La Resurrezione is probably the most cheerful version of the story ever composed, eliding the torture and crucifixion by focusing on the weekend rumors and eventual confirmation of the resurrection. Much of the narrative involves an Angel from Heaven admonishing Lucifer with lines like, "Silence, for soon they shalt see Him, arrogant monster!/Thou shalt see how Death,/outwitted, flies from Him." Soprano Mary Wilson was the Angel while baritone Jesse Blumberg was a perfect incarnation of a handsome Devil.

Kyle Stegall as St. John the Evangelist has a sweet, unforced tenor infused with musical sensitivity, and his perforance was a continuous delight.

He was joined by soprano Nola Richardson (above right) as Mary Magdalene and mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, both of them in very fine voice.

Jeffrey Thomas and his small, action-packed orchestra were a joy, keeping the propulsive energy flowing until the final jubilant chorus consisting of the five soloists singing "Let praises sound in Heaven." Thomas not only conducted but he wrote the amusing program notes besides. Handel was living in Hamburg when he first went to Italy for four years where he was a guest of royalty (the Prince of Tuscany), cardinals, and brilliant musicians. Thomas writes: "Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili had some considerable talent as a poet and wrote several librettos that Handel would set to music and an ode in which he compared Handel to Orpheus, a reference in that day to homosexuality. Pamphili thus revealed some kind of affection to the composer. Handel was in his early twenties, and it is said that Handel was quite attractive as a young man." News to me.

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