The Vow. Music by G.F. Handel. Adapted from Thomas Morell's libretto to Jephtha by Tobias Cole. Directed by Tobias Cole. Conducted by Brett Weymark. Handel in the Theatre. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. October 8-9.
In an ambitious production, Canberra's newest opera company, Handel in the Theatre, transported Handel's Jephtha into a part-staged, dramatic performance at the Playhouse. At the helm of the new company is Tobias Cole, with Kelly Corner as creative producer and Brett Weymark conducting. The Canberra Choral Society excelled as the chorus, singing the lengthy score from memory and responding effectively to the direction of choreographer Belynda Buck.
Bass soloist Christopher Richardson made a powerful entrance as Zebul, addressing the assembled crowds, exhorting them to choose an effective leader to deliver them from the threat of subjection. Andrew Goodwin's entrance solo was less convincing, but his subsequent arias gathered strength and dramatic conviction to build his character. There were a few unexpected blemishes in Tobias Cole's performance, but the audience's appreciation for the man with the exceptional voice and charismatic creative drive was unequivocal.
Christina Wilson's character Storge is not an easy one to animate as the woman is powerless to avert the tragedy she foresees. In this version after her singing role was completed, she remained onstage but inactive and silent as the calamity unfolded. Wilson gave a beautiful vocal performance, but I felt that she could have been given more helpful stage directions.
Undisputed star of the show was Jacqueline Porter as Iphis. Her faultless technique combined with her excellent acting ensured that the climax of the work was truly chilling as she knelt with her father about to sacrifice her to pay for his military victory.
At the heart of the performance was the outstanding ensemble conducted by Brett Weymark. Principal violin Matthew Bruce was outstanding in his attention to cues, his responsiveness to flexible tempos and leading the fine trio, blending with fellow sting players Myee Clohessy, Gabrielle Kancachian and Anita Glyuas. Ariana Odermatt on harpsichord provided impeccable accompaniment and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing every note from my seat in row F.
While I appreciate the allusion to Canberra and "the endless posturing of political leaders", I was bemused by the costumes, and could not grasp why Jephtha wore a dinner shirt, loose black tie and military overcoat throughout. The women soloists' clothing was also ambiguous. Bearing in mind some of the audience comments on either side of me, I wonder if some judicious cuts might have tightened the story line and increased the suspense at the moment of execution resolved by divine intervention.
The Vow certainly offered a salutary tale about the dangers of pursuing ambition at all costs, and the debut presentation by Handel in the Theatre is indeed promising.