October 21, 2022
* Notes *
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale opened the new season with Händel's Theodora last night at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. There was much beautiful singing about fruit and lack there of, though not from the brilliant soprano Julie Roset (pictured, photograph by David Noles) in the title role.
Maestro Richard Egarr has a lot of energy and the overture was rapid but not rushed. The orchestra was not quite as buoyant or jaunty as before Egarr's tenure, but sounded lovely throughout the performance. Likewise, the new chorale director Valérie Sainte-Agathe seems to have a good handle (pun intended) on the choruses of this piece and the singers behind the orchestra sounded strong and together.
The principals were uniformly fine. Bass-baritone Dashon Burton started us off on a grand footing as Valens, the President of Antioch. His voice is very rich and pretty, and his clean lines were wonderful for this music. His air "Racks, gibbets, sword, and fire" in Act I, Scene 1 was powerful and his "Cease, ye slaves, your fruitless pray'r" in Act III was similarly solid. It was a joy to hear tenor Thomas Cooley as the Roman soldier Septimius, his sweet, beautifully-controlled tones were particularly nice for "Dread the fruits of Christian folly" in Act I. Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston was a clear-voiced Irene, the Christian friend of Theodora. She has an impressive and consistent alveolar trill (rolled R for you non-linguists).
I was so happy to hear former Adler countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Theodora's love interest and Roman officer Didymus. His sound is very open and he has some incredible coloratura, he held his own in duets with Ms. Roset. As Theodora, Roset was splendid, and her French accent did not detract from her clarity of tone and effortless sparkle. Every note she sang was beautifully colored.
* Tattling *
It was amusing how animated Maestro Egarr was, he hopped off his bench to conduct and even did two jumps during the chorus "Venus, laughing from the skies."
The program for the performance was minimal, just one folded sheet, but since there weren't supertitles, there was a printed libretto on five pages. Unfortunately this did make for a lot of page turning noise.