Handel’s Athalia to be performed for the first time in Australia

Pinchgut Opera AthaliaAustralia’s only Baroque opera company, the acclaimed Pinchgut Opera, presents a striking new production of Handel’s Athalia for four performances ony from 21 June at City Recital Hall Sydney.

It is based on the story of the Biblical Queen Athalia, daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who was determined to stamp out the Jewish line of kings descended from David. The powerful plot tells of the high priest Joad attempting to overthrow the despotic regime of the murderous and ambitious Athalia.

Athalia deals with powerful psychological themes and personal dilemmas: an unstable queen visited by nightmares of her murderous mother, a religious couple concealing a royal child and a general with divided political loyalties. A central part of the drama is the relationship between the two women – Queen Athalia and Josabeth, wife of Joad, who is raising the boy king Joas.

Athalia is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Samuel Humphreys based on the play Athalie by Jean Racine. It was completed on 7 June 1733, and first performed on 10 July 1733 at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. It was Handel’s third oratorio in English, preceding Saul as his next work in the genre.

Enormously popular at the time, Athalia was an audacious experiment in a completely new theatrical form: relatively few da capo arias for the soloists, allowing the chorus to take on a more profound role in the drama. From their inception, Handel’s oratorios dealt with themes that had strong – and controversial – resonances with contemporary political life.

Directed by Lindy Hume, Australian-born soprano Emma Pearson makes her Pinchgut debut in the title role, South African-born countertenor Clint van der Linde takes the role of Joad and thirteen-year-old Freddy Shaw as Joas. Other artists include Pinchgut favourites Miriam Allan, Brenton Spiteri and David Greco.

“As a director, Handel is my favourite composer,” says Director, Lindy Hume. “He presents a series of emotional, moral and ethical problems via complex characters and situations, and challenges audiences to reach into their own souls to find solutions.”

Featuring a design by Melanie Liertz, lighting by Matthew Marshall, and with Pinchgut Artistic Director Erin Helyard conducting from the harpsichord, Athalia reunites much of the phenomenal creative team from Pinchgut’s 2016 lauded production of Handel’s Theodora.

Athalia is a striking work that combines the chorus and solo voice in new and novel ways, and in some respects it was an experiment in vocal colour that Handel was not to use again in his career in oratorio, preferring larger block structures over the interweaving of textures,” says Erin Helyard, Artistic Director Pinchgut Opera.

“Handel’s brilliance at examining human nature is in full flight with Athalia. He presents characters rich in thought and feeling, combined with haunting alternation of chorus and voice to create heart-stopping moments when everything clears but for a few strings and a single voice. It’s just magic.”

“The inclusion of a boy soprano only heightens Handel’s desire to pair and play off one another youthfulness and adulthood, apostates and believers, the virtuous and the hypocrites. This is a magnificent work with thrilling orchestral and choral effects; I can’t wait to begin work on it with such a phenomenal cast.”

City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
Performances: 21, 23, 24 & 26 June 2018
Bookings: www.cityrecitalhall.com

For more information, visit: www.pinchgutopera.com.au for details.

Image: Pinchgut Opera presents Athalia (supplied)