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Saul review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘a superlative revival’

The cast of Saul at Glyndebourne, Lewes. Photo: Bill Cooper
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Following its first appearance in 2015, Barrie Kosky’s all-singing, all-dancing production of Handel’s oratorio Saul is back for this festival revival.

Whatever cavils one might have with individual details of Kosky’s full-on approach, there’s no denying the vivid theatricality of the enterprise as a whole.

Due to a ban on the representation of Biblical personages on stage, Handel had no choice but to perform his oratorios in concert. But Kosky unquestionably demonstrates this example’s theatrical viability in a manner as insistently dramatic as it is undeniably entertaining – in which context it would be impossible to overestimate the importance of the contributions of the director’s regular designer and choreographer to the show’s overall impact.

In the title-role German baritone Markus Bruck could be faulted for regularly deviating from the notes in the cause of heightened expressivity, but his depiction of the envious king’s increasingly fractured mental state is both sensitive and terrifying.

Equally hard to imagine more beautifully sung interpretations of David and Jonathan than those offered by Iestyn Davies and Allan Clayton, and once again the presentation of their relationship as highly physical is sensitively sketched in.

Karina Gauvin and Anna Devin excel as Jonathan’s sisters Merab and Michal — complete opposites in their characters and attitude towards David. Stuart Jackson’s flamboyant amalgamation of four secondary roles makes something memorable out of the combination, while John Graham-Hall’s Witch of Endor provides yet another of the show’s endless parade of unforgettable visual images.

There’s a team of six tireless dancers – though more or less everyone on stage is on their toes at some point – while due to the bang-on precision of the Glyndebourne Chorus, plus the thrilling playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the focused baton of conductor Laurence Cummings, Handel’s music is as well served as the drama.

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A superlative revival of Barrie Kosky’s all-singing, all-dancing production