Universal tale
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Universal tale

Handel's Theodora

By Canberra Choral Society

Soprano Greta Bradman performed the title role in <i>Theodora</i>.

Soprano Greta Bradman performed the title role in Theodora.Credit:Stephen Baccon

The musicologist Hugo Leichtentritt wrote that the power of Handel's oratorios lay in their universality: ''They do not deal with a mere theatrical plot, involving individuals, but are rather concerned with whole nations in their relation to the divine laws.''

Handel chose biblical stories because of their ''universal validity, their elemental power, their grandiose simplicity''. Theodora is an oratorio very much in this vein. The relationship that develops through the spiritual idealism of Theodora (Greta Bradman) and the altruism of Didymus (Tobias Cole) is the golden braid into which other character interactions are woven to create a narrative line leading inexorably to earthly tragedy and divine redemption.

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This was an elegant, professional production; the Heathen (Kompactus) and Christian (Canberra Choral Society) choruses gave stirring performances and the soloists' voices were well matched to ensure sympathetic blending in the duets and trios.

It was fascinating to hear how Greta Bradman's voice has deepened and become more richly complex since I last heard her sing in Canberra. It is a voice with distinctive colours and enunciation, and her considered approach to her solos mark her as a singer to be observed closely as her career progresses.

Christina Wilson's demonstrative compassion in her interpretation of the role of Irene provided the perfect foil for the spiritual detachment of Bradman's characterisation of Theodora; her voice providing contrasting warmth and emotion. Paul McMahon sang easily and well with both Bradman and Cole, engaging with the injustices decreed in act one, the growing inevitability of Didymus's pledge to sacrifice himself for Theodora and the ultimate fate of the lovers. Stephen Bennett as Valens projected merciless brutality in his appropriately dark solos.

Cole is something of a local hero in Canberra. The influence of his good humour and rigorous attention to detail, in partnership with repetiteur Anthony Smith, were clear in this performance. Cole has further tightened discipline in his solo performances in the past year, polishing his crystal clarity in the upper notes and perfecting his phrasing.

The instrumental ensemble led by Bianca Porcheddu, had a warm, well-rounded sound with delicious oboe highlights and fine playing by Peter Young (chamber organ) and James Huntingford (harpsichord).

This oratorio, with a heroine who goes to her death rather than compromise her principles, and a hero who has renounced his nation to follow her, provides much food for thought. Canberra audiences will long remember the Canberra Centenary performance.

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