Two different Jephtha's this year. The performance on 24th June was higher profile because it took place at the Barbican Hall, which attracts a bigger audience than the first, which was with John Mark Ainsley at St George's, Hanover Square – off the beaten track, but a Handel place, which pulled the more specialized devotees. Read about it HERE
Jephtha is not a prissy subject. The Israelites are struggling for survival so Jephtha the warrior makes a deal with God. Which is not smart because sometimes you get what you want but not how you want. Jephtha must pay for victory by sacrificing his daughter Iphis.
Paul McCreesh conducted the Gabrieli Consort and players with verve, so orchestrally this was excellent.The long passages with no singing whipped along with energetic vigour.
It wasn't quite so great a night for singing. Mhairi Lawson's Iphis is charming but Iphis is a formidably strong personality : she's not her father's daughter for nothing, so more punch perhaps was needed. Hamor was sung by Daniel Taylor, whose looks are perfect for a counter tenor - angelic but slightly scary, like a young Simon Rattle with attitude. Pity the voice was very uneven, but credit to him for realizing it wasn't his day. It's more worrying to me when a singer has a bad day and doesn't notice. I don't follow that school of thought that demands perfection every time.
The interesting thing about this repertoire is that good performances are perfectly adequate but extremely good ones somehow reach parts "beyond". For example, the treble part which is usually nicely sung, as William Docherty's Angel was. But every now and then you hear a boy soprano with that something extra that stuns so much that the memory lingers so you're spoiled for perfectly decent singing. Mark Padmore's Jephtha was note perfect, but tonight he wasn't soaring to great heights of colour. I waited all evening for that divine aria "Waft her angels through the skies", where a voice can take off, "far above yon azure plain", but tonight it didn't quite soar to glorious heights. No dis to MP but this is why I love this aria so much : This is John Mark Ainsley in a whole other stratosphere. Video is lovely too
Yet Zebul, sung by Andrew Foster Willliams, was darkly nuanced. It's not the biggest role in this oratorio, but singing like this expands the part by building in extra depths. Christianne Stotjin was impressive, particularly in the first part. But the choir! The Gabrielis were augmented by members of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir: expressive singing, quite the match for the raw energy McCreesh gets from his players.
After nearly 4 hours of Handel, I drove home through traffic jams and diversions all the way. Then set out early next am for 5 hours of Purcell at Glyndebourne and another long drive back because I got hopelessly lost. Usually I can navigate by instinct, like a homing pigeon, but this time was far too tired to fully function.
So log in tomorrow when I'll tell you what The Fairie Queen at Glyndebourne was like. WOW!!!!!! The memory of it kept me jived up and awake - more stimulating than caffeine.