4* – Terrorism, feminism, and slaughter – Handel gets a radical makeover
Is this Handel as we know it? Or as he would have known it? No, but it has a compelling logic all its own. Director Katie Mitchell has here achieved something extraordinary: a complete transformation of the composer’s elegiac oratorio about purity, stoicism and acceptance of fate into a story of terrorism, violent feminist resistance, and ultimately slaughter. …
4* – Bombs, a brothel and a brilliant cast
Handel considered Theodora the greatest of his oratorios. Few today would disagree with him, though it was surprisingly unsuccessful at its Covent Garden premiere in 1750, and the Royal Opera’s new production effectively marks its overdue homecoming. Notoriety, however, began to cling to Katie Mitchell’s staging well before opening night, thanks to trigger warnings about “explicit violence” on the Royal Opera website, and the much reported employment of intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien to ensure the performers felt comfortable with the sex scenes. All this has to some extent been a bit of a distraction, as the production is for the most part a reined-in affair, and neither particularly explicit (either sexually or in its depiction of violence) nor quite as inflammatory as anticipated.
4* – Pole-dancers, bombs and heart-stopping singing
“…powerfully depicted with fervent voice and gesture by Julia Bullock, who successfully leads an uprising of her fellow servants against Valens, the rapacious Roman ambassador.”
Sombre, subdued and slow-moving — even when it isn’t actually being performed in slow motion — Katie Mitchell’s new Royal Opera staging of Handel’s late oratorio won’t provide the most thrilling four hours of anyone’s life, although connoisseurs of pole-dancing countertenors in drag may disagree. Yet there’s a dramatic coherence to it, and a respect for Handel’s melodically radiant or sublimely sad music, that makes it a compelling show. Although some moments in this modern-era updating seem clichéd and gimmicky — the pole-dancers, for instance, or the terrorist bomb-making — the storytelling is direct and the acting credible and often moving.
4* – Theodora at Covent Garden: Katie Mitchell’s production is radical but could be tighter, unlike the frocks
Katie Mitchell’s new production of Handel’s Theodora comes bristling with warnings of sexual violence and exploitation. It was also recently revealed that the production team had availed themselves of an “intimacy coordinator” to help negotiate the more intrusive moments. Handel’s work, to a libretto by Thomas Morrell, tells the story of the Christian martyr Theodora, threatened with the horrors of a Roman brothel for failing to renounce her religion. A fate worse than death, she opines, a view which allows her to submit to her ultimate death sentence with equanimity.
The Arts Desk
4* – God, love, sex, death – and terrorism
“Theodora’s active good should be strong enough by itself – turning her fundamentalist actually alienates us from some of her most limpid music – and Julia Bullock could carry it whatever the direction. Vocally, as so often happens with singers in Handel, the upper register is vibrant, the middle sometimes going into a murky zone, but the casting of Bullock pays off remarkably in the last act.”
Some of Handel’s late London oratorios, like the indestructible Semele, work well as fully staged operas. Others, usually the ones which swap mythology for the sacred, need dramatic help. Theodora is one of them, though Peter Sellars’ now-legendary Glyndebourne production had a once-in-a-lifetime intensity. The singing if not the acting is more fitfully stunning here, but Katie Mitchell just about pulls off one of her most vivid and focused reimaginings.
3* – This isn’t the shocking staging we were promised
Julia’s Theodora is “severely beautiful.”
The rumblings started weeks ago. An email went out from the Royal Opera: parents should think twice before bringing their under-16s to the company’s new Theodora, with its “explicit presentation of scenes of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation” and “themes of terrorism”. And that was before director Katie Mitchell spoke out, promising a shocking twist of an ending.
3* – An all-star cast and spectacular debut rescue a warped reading of Handel’s work of faith
Earthquakes in London in 1750 made audiences fearful of going in to the West End. Masonry fell at Westminster, aftershocks continued through the spring. It was an unlucky moment for London’s leading composer, George Frideric Handel, to unleash his ravishingly beautiful new piece, Theodora.
3* – 272 years on, Handel’s Theodora comes home to Covent Garden
“Bullock shone most brightly in her closing duet with Orlinski “Streams of pleasure ever flowing”, another of the highlights of the evening.”
On the plus side, Handel’s Theodora has some of the most sublime music that he or any other composer ever wrote. On the minus side, the story of a pair of Christian martyrs meekly going to meet their doom at the hands of Antioch’s Roman overlords isn’t exactly uplifting stuff. Written for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750 and given just three performances, it’s had to wait 272 years for last night’s fourth outing.
5* – Pole-dancers, dissidents and Joyce DiDonato in a triumphant Theodora
“Bullock… fills the music with feeling both dark and bright.”
Katie Mitchell’s Theodora at Covent Garden is a pole dancing, sisterhood triumph
“…from Julia Bullock’s heart-rending, as well as ruthless, Theodora”
4* – The week in classical: Theodora; OAE: Bach, the Universe and Everything – review
“Bullock’s Theodora, heartfelt and strong, is ardently sung by this versatile performer.”
“…she gave it her all, with nuance and vitality.”
Handel as Netflix thriller: Royal Opera’s Theodora reviewed
“Julia Bullock’s luminous, vulnerable and (ultimately) unnerving performance as Theodora”