Whose mercies numberless

BsosaulThe Bavarian State Opera premiered a production of Händel's oratorio Saul just last week. The performance yesterday evening was the third one, and David Daniels had taken ill with bronchitis the day before and was unable to sing. This caused a great deal of scrambling, since the countertenor was to sing the alto part of David, and Saul is hardly standard repertoire. Apparently they were doing this during Die Walküre's hideously long intermissions. They were able to convince Brian Asawa, who was on his way home to San Francisco having sung Saul as an oratorio in Dortmund, Bochum, and Wuppertal, to sing in Munich. Unfortunately, since Saul is not an opera, Asawa could not be expected to act the part. Instead, they had him sing from the orchestra pit while an actor, Markus Koch, was on stage, mouthing the words when necessary. The effect was surreal.

The oratorio itself was very grand. Less showy and frivolous than the Händel operas I have seen, and the chorus is used beautifully. Hardly any of his oratorios are performed besides The Messiah, so even though this production was done as an opera, it wasn't so bad.

Ivor Bolton seemed to conduct much better than usual, the orchestra felt actually together. The instrumentation included a baroque harp, organ, carillon, harpsichord, chitarrone, and viola da gamba.

The singing was throughly good. Bass Alastair Miles, while not very distinctive, did perfectly well as Saul. Soprano Rebecca Evans as Merab had a bit of a rough start, but her voice is gorgeous. Soprano Rosemary Joshua was fine as Michal, though I prefered her singing Mozart. Brian Asawa's voice most impressive, not a touch gravelly like Daniels, and Asawa did not seem to be working nearly as hard at all.

The staging was fairly dull, somewhat of a relief after all the nonsense lately for the Ring-cycle. The stage was set up as a church, we are looking at it from the front, we would be at the altar. The chorus was dressed in a Baroque manner for the first two acts, all in white for the first, and all in black for the second. In Act III they were dressed all in modern black clothing, which they stripped off at the end to reveal colorful clothing as they waved flags emblazoned with the image of David Daniels. The principal singers were dressed in contemporary clothing the entire time, men in suits, women in evening gowns. The choreography was not particularly inspired, more or less sensible, or at least, human.