Conductor Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have just released a recording of Handel's oratorio Saul.
The soloists include sopranos Elizabeth Atherton and Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, tenors Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell, Robert Murray, and Tom Raskin, and basses Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Christopher Purves, and Stuart Young.
Saul was Handel's fourth English oratorio, but it was the first one he wrote after he had given up once and for all on Italian opera. He wrote it at the age of 53, having made a full recovery following a debilitating illness he suffered the year before that affected his playing and his mental health. Saul also marked Handel's first collaboration with librettist Charles Jennens, with whom he would later collaborate on several other oratorios, including Israel in Egypt and Messiah. In many ways, then, Saul marks a new beginning for Handel, the start of his greatest creative period.
How appropriate, then, that this oratorio is concerned with events that take place during the Feast of the New Moon, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It's a story of death and renewal: the Lear-like fall of Saul, a once-great king who succumbs to feelings of murderous jealousy of the young David, who at the beginning of the oratorio is fresh from his victory over Goliath and at the end is crowned king, an important figure in all the Abrahamic religions. Handel treats this story as a true epic, calling for the largest cast and richest orchestration of any of his oratorios.
This week we'll be hearing a brand-new recording of the work by The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers, who is also the director of Boston's own Handel and Haydn Society. One of the notable features of the recording is the casting of the role of David, usually sung by a countertenor, as a female mezzo-soprano, which apparently was Handel's original intention. On this recording the role is sung by Sarah Connolly; in an Opera Today review of her performance of this role at the Barbican, Connolly is said to have "demonstrated that in the right hands, the richness, depth and flexibility of a female mezzo-soprano voice can work wonders in the role...here she gave a finely moulded, intelligent performance of great beauty."
This recording will be heard in four installments, during the 9pm hour on Monday and during the 10pm hour Tuesday through Thursday, in celebration of Rosh Hashanah.
See a libretto
Harry Christophers will conduct another Handel oratorio in Boston during the 2012-2013 season. The concluding concert of the coming season of the Handel and Haydn Society features Handel's Jeptha, and will feature two of the soloists heard in The Sixteen's Saul, including Joélle Harvey and Robert Murray.