What a sublimely beautiful oratorio.
It had been quite a long time since I played with an orchestra (May, 2006) and longer still since I had played for an opera. I started out the week on a high playing wise because I had just had a lesson with Peter the night before I left for Norfolk so I was busy being excited about the bass "Oh, that's how I use the bow!" and the like. The first day of rehearsals was mostly sight reading and I have always enjoyed that part of the process of learning music- when everything is new and making mistakes is part of the game, when you're getting introduced to the music.
The orchestra was full of lovely people as well. Robert Houssart, the conductor and harpsichordist- is enthusiastic and fun. There were 5 violins: Emily from Boston; Marja from Finland via Cork, Ireland; Aiden and Naimh from Ireland; and Tim the 15 year old whose family I was staying with. We had one viola- Tom who has impressively mobile eyebrows; and two cellists- Harriet from the South of England, and Sara- our continuo cellist from Germany. So we were a right international bunch. Two oboeists (Sharon, England; Sian, Minnesota), a timpanist (Polly, Scotland), and a trumpet player (Will, England) all showed up later in the week. Oh, and David- the repititeur harpsichordist (he played for the singers during rehearsals).
Do you know what recitatives are? Wikipedia defines it as "a style of delivery (much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech." Basically it is where all of the exposition happens in operas, because there isn't much space for it in the arias. They also, particularly in baroque music, are full clear cadences. So someone will sing a sentence, and then you have a big V-I and I don't know how to explain it other than that or singing it to you, but that doesn't really work on blogs...Right, so anyhow- the point of this is that through playing this music and all of the recitatives that we played and listened to- I now feel like I understand so much more of the theory that I learned in undergrad from a practical standpoint and I wish in some ways that either I could go back to those classes now, or I could have some how had this experience before (or during) those classes.
Same thing with styles of bowing and articulation- when playing baroque excerpts for orchestral excerpt class we would be told to play light, don't hit the last notes heavily, let go of the unimportant notes, know where the phrase is going and toss off those notes that are only passing. I never really got this- it was hard for me to hear out of context and really frustrating at the time. Now I am like, dude- we really should have been made to play baroque operas in small chamber orchestras, what a great learning opportunity that would have been.
That is me now. During the week however, I was constantly screwing up during rehearsals and playing out of tune and forgetting to look at key signatures and just generally feeling like my playing was not up to snuff. So I wasn't as pleased with the whole thing as I am now. Now I want to practice (me! I want to practice! Okay, so not a whole lot- but there are certain things that I would like to work up again and wouldn't it be lovely to play for fun? Without any sort of pressure?) because then if I get to go back again next year, I wouldn't freak out everytime Robert whipped his head around because I jumped an entrance or played a wrong note. To be fair, I was right next to him so he could hear me clearly, but his starting every time I messed up was not helpful.
Anyhow- enough of my angst about my playing: Handel sure knew how to write music. I don't think I have ever fallen in love with an opera/oratorio like I have with this one. It wasn't just the arias that would get stuck in my head; it is such a lovely work that I would get bits of recitative stuck in my head. 'O That I on Wings Could Rise', one of Theodora's arias. Lovely. And anything Irene sings. 'Wither, Princess, Do You Fly'. And most of the choruses.
It's a heartbreaking story too- the christians are all told to make a sacrifice to the Roman god Jove or be killed. Theodora, a christian princess and Irene, her group's pristess refuse. Instead of killing Theodora though- because shis such a prominent christian, she is setanced to be turned in to a whore. This, because she is so very virtuous is worse than death. Didymus, a Roman soldier is so overcome and impressed with her virtue that he goes to tr save her and convinces Theodora to switch places with him in her prison cell. Didymus is found out and sentenced to die for helping the prisoner to escape. Theodora is also now sentenced to die should she be found. Overjoyed that her virtue is still protected, Theodora races back to the palace to turn herself in. Both Didymus and Theodora argue that they should be killed in place of the other. In interest of fairness, they are both killed. The end.
Obviously this is a bit more nuanced in the actual opera.