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Handel: Theodora [Salzburg Festpiele] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: C major
  • Blu-ray Release Date: May 31, 2011
  • List Price: $39.99

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Purchase Theodora on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)


The Performance

[Rating:4.5/5]

Georg Frideric Handel has always loomed large in the world of classical music.  Theodora was one of his last oratorios, an opera-like format featuring soloists, chorus, and orchestra but lacking opera’s formal dramatic interaction between the characters. The concept of staging Theodora as a drama by German director Christof Loy at the 2009 Salzburg Festival is not novel but greatly enhances the impact of this tragedy for the audience.

The story of Theodora, a 3rd Century A.D. Christian martyr, is relatively straight forward as  plots go. Theodora (soprano Christine Schaefer) and her Christian-convert Roman lover Didymus (counter-tenor Bejun Mehta) run afoul of Valens, the Roman president of Antioch (bass Johannes Martin Kraenzle) who insists that all citizens pay homage to the Roman deities. Theodora and her companion Irene (mezzo-soprano Bernada Fink) are arrested during worship by Roman officer, Septimus (tenor Joseph Kaiser). Theodora is forced into prostitution.  With the help of Didymus, Theodora escapes from the brothel and returns to her Christian community. However, the freedom of the lovers is short-lived as they are eventually captured and sentenced to death by Valens. Like most of Handel’s many oratorios, Theodora’s English libretto should make it more accessible to American viewers.

Video Quality

[Rating:5/5]

Christof Loy’s productions, like his 2009 realization of  Alban Berg’s Lulu, frequently feature minimalist sets.   The stark backdrop of suspended organ pipes and rows of chairs enable  freedom of stage action without the boundaries of conventional staging. The oratorio touch here is garbing the singers in formal wear appropriate to a conventional concert performance. The set and singers’ wardrobes are quite dark, adding to the somber atmosphere originally intended by Handel and his librettist.  The  “action” is done rather cleverly, and if not what one would get in a standard opera seria, works well for this production.  The videographers move freely among the singers and their supporting choristers to create a sense of real stage movement. There are many evocative close ups with excellent  detail underscoring the intimate nature of this piece. The brothel scene leaves little to the imagination  even without the sexual props. Okay, not everything works as well,  like the scene where Theodora and Didymus change clothes, shades of  “Bosom Buddies!” Credit should be given to video director Hannes Rossacher for adding excitement to what might have been a very static performance.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The period-sized Freiburger Barockorchester in the pit fits the work on stage to a tee. Ivor Bolton leads his forces impeccably and the instrumental voices sing as beautifully like their vocal counterparts. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio recording captures the fabulous acoustics of the Salzburg Grosses Festspielhaus, giving listeners a good taste of what being there is like. There is much gorgeous music here and the magnificent bunch of soloists are extremely well recorded. For those not accustomed to the male counter-tenor voice, Bejun Mehta brings a humanity to this unusual  fach that must be heard to be believed. Not all of the principals are native English speakers, but the diction and clarity of all concerned is exemplary, making subtitles unnecessary. Surround channels are limited to providing some hall ambience.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

There are no supplemental materials.  As with any new concept of a traditional work, it is unfortunate that viewers do not get the opportunity to visit with this stellar cast or director Loy.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

Even if this were not the lone Blu-ray offering of Theodora, it is unlikely that another would supplant this performance’s video and sound recording. Drama, not usually associated with the oratorio musical form, is presented in abundance. Christof  Loy’s  realization adds action to what would have otherwise been a stand-and- deliver piece. Yes, the stage is mostly bare, the backdrop is usually dark, and the main props are chairs but there is obvious action equivalent to that of a discretely staged performance like recent “concert” versions of Les Miserables or Sweeney Todd.  Handel’s vocal works rise or fall on the quality of the singers. I am delighted to report that this Theodora offers an embarrassment of vocal riches. There is also luxury casting in having evergreen British tenor Ryland Davies in the minor role of the Messenger. Baroque specialist, conductor Ivor Bolton,  brings spirit to the proceedings and keeps the dramatic pulse ticking. Clocking in at just over 3 hours, including a 14-minute organ concerto in the third act, Theodora does not play as a long work. As far as I am concerned, this is a case of all the stars aligning and yielding a superb performance in both sight and sound.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B004S4AR2K[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004S4AR2K[/amazon-product]

Purchase Theodora on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

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