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Jephtha review at Coliseum London

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Katie Mitchell’s production is shared with Welsh National Opera, where it opened in 2003. It is a serious attempt to stage Handel’s Biblical oratorio about an Israelite leader who swears that if he is victorious in battle he will sacrifice the first living thing he meets on his return. This proves to be his daughter Iphis and after much lamenting and wailing, the sacrifice is averted only by angelic intervention.

Worthy though the attempt is, it fails on a number of counts. Handel’s oratorios were not designed to be staged and their structure is essentially non-theatrical. Mitchell’s busy direction of both principals and chorus underlines rather than disguises this fact.

Though Vicki Mortimer’s swiftly changing set – a war-damaged hotel, with the cast dressed in late forties gear – is a brilliant piece of work, the period is not one associated with ritual human sacrifice. No two people I spoke to had the same opinion as to where the staging is set. This story could only make sense in the setting of an ancient, deeply religious culture.

The singers work hard but they compromise Handel’s lines with shouting, as if this were a verismo barnstormer. His music would have more impact if simply and carefully sung. Some of the voices are small scale for London’s largest theatre and diction is woefully poor.

Nor is Nicholas Kraemer’s conducting inspiring. ENO’s policy of staging oratorios needs serious reconsideration.

Production Information

Coliseum, London, May 12, 14, 18, 20, 25, June 3, 7, 9, 15

Katie Mitchell
English National Opera
Cast includes
Mark Padmore, Susan Bickley, Sarah Tynan, Robin Blaze, Neal Davies
Running time
3hrs 15mins

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