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  • Writer's pictureAnn Janes

Saul Must See Glyndebourne Opera August 2018

Barrie Kosky’s sensational staging of Handel’s oratorio marries spectacle and psychology

David has vanquished the giant Goliath, but not everyone rejoices in his victory. Jealous of the young warrior, King Saul turns against him, descending into violent, destructive madness that forces his children to choose between loyalty and love, tearing both a family and a nation apart.

Blazingly original and visually spectacular staging

Handel’s vision of a Lear-like king is astonishing in its psychological complexity, offering a musical portrait of mental collapse few have since matched. Combined with thrilling choruses that exploit the virtuosic potential of their singers, exquisite arias and bold orchestration filled with unusual instruments, it creates a Biblical drama of truly Shakespearean scope.

Fresh from its triumph at the 2015 Glyndebourne Festival, Barrie Kosky’s blazingly original and visually spectacular staging of Handel’s oratorio returns for a first revival, pairing baroque music with contemporary choreography and lavish designs to create an enthralling theatrical fusion of old and new.

Handel expert Laurence Cummings conducts an all-star cast, including Festival favourites Lestyn Davies and Allan Clayton.

Composed in 1738 as Handel was recovering from the stroke that many thought would end his career, Saul is an unflinching portrait of mental collapse and human weakness. At its heart is the Lear-like figure of King Saul – one of the composer’s most moving and vividly drawn characters.

When the story begins, the Israelite warrior David has vanquished the Philistine giant Goliath. But while the Israelite people celebrate David’s victory, King Saul is filled with jealousy. Jealousy soon curdles into anger, and anger into a violent madness, and the increasingly unstable King forces his children to choose between loyalty to their father and their love for David. Breaking every moral and man-made law, Saul brings both his nation and family to a terrible, destructive crisis.

Why see this opera?

Peter Sellars’ groundbreaking Theodora in 1996 established Glyndebourne as a pioneer in the staging of Handel’s oratorios – compositions that, because of their religious subject matter, were originally intended to be performed in concert form only. Barrie Kosky’s extraordinary, award-winning production of Saul continues this tradition. Bursting with energy and sensation, Kosky’s Saul combines exhilarating contemporary choreography with lavish period costumes in a stylish fusion of old and new that creates some of the season’s most striking visuals.

‘Glyndebourne’s Saul is one of the few landmark stagings that will forever change the way people watch oratorios, created by one of the most exciting stage directors of our time. This is baroque in its truest meaning!’ Sebastian F. Schwarz, Glyndebourne’s General Director

Drama is absolutely at the heart of a staging that takes one of Handel’s most vivid scores and amplifies it, drawing out both the darkness and the blazing musical light in this tale of one man’s mental collapse, and the rise of a new era and a new nation. Here’s a taste of this spectacular staging – the oratorio’s opening chorus ‘How Excellent Thy Name O Lord’, in which the Israelites celebrate David’s victory over the giant Goliath.

Cast and creative team

A cast of Glyndebourne favourites includes leading Handelian soprano Karina Gauvin, last seen at the Festival in Rinaldo, as Saul’s daughter Merab. She is joined by countertenor Iestyn Davies, who reprises his role as David. Since he last appeared at Glyndebourne, Davies has starred opposite Mark Rylance as the celebrated castrato Farinelli in the acclaimed West End play Farinelli and the King.

Fresh from his triumph as Prince Hamlet in Brett Dean’s Hamlet, British tenor Allan Clayton returns to Glyndebourne to make his role debut as Saul’s son Jonathan, with soprano Anna Devin as his other sister Michal, a role she also took in Glyndebourne’s 2015 Tour.

Making his Glyndebourne debut in the title role of Saul is German baritone Markus Brück. A member of the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Brück has also appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Bayreuth and Salzburg festivals and major opera houses around the world.

Saul will be conducted by Handel expert Laurence Cummings, artistic director of the Handel festivals of both London and Gottingen.

Things to look out for

Handel’s instrumentation is extraordinarily varied in this piece. The innovative introduction of trombones and military drums for battle and ceremonial music together with prominent solos for organ, harp and an exotic carillon show Handel seizing the moment to establish himself as a master of the form. The score calls for kettle drums so large that Handel had to borrow them from the Tower of London as no others existed that were large enough.

The production features some spectacular visual set pieces, from the incredibly choreographed group dance routines to a breathtaking on-stage organ solo performed amidst a host of candles. Take a look at the incredible staging in this trailer:

Saul is on stage at Festival 2018 from 19 July – 25 August – book now.

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