Handel’s Audacious Athalia makes its Australian debut

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Handel’s daring Opera Athalia presents its world premiere for the first time in Australia this June. First performed in 1733, Handel’s Baroque Opera is based on the story of the Biblical Queen Athalia, who was determined to stamp out the Jewish line of Kings descended from David. Its theatrical experimentation and critique of anti-Semitism, makes Athalia audacious for its historical context of Israelite persecution and political conservatism.

Director Lindy Hume describes how the attraction of Handel’s operas are in how they “challenge audiences to reach into their own souls to find solutions”.
Describing Handel as “a poet of the human heart”, Hume says, “…as a director, Handel is my favourite composer. He presents a series of emotional, moral and ethical problems via complex characters and situations”.

Athalia confronts daring psychological themes in its turbulent setting of the religious persecution of the Israelites. The plot follows high priest Joad’s attempts to overthrow the murderous and despotic regime of the powerful Athalia, as his wife, Josabeth, secretly protects Joas – a child who is the one heir of David fortunate enough to have survived the slaughter of David’s heirs.  Director Hume says, “At the spiritual heart of the work is an otherworldly boy whose innocence crushes the corrupt Athalia and restores hope to the Israelites”.

It is no wonder Director Hume calls Handel’s production, “a hotbed of intrigue and devious characters”.  

The story’s contextual boldness is fittingly accompanied by revolutionary theatrics. Pinchgut Opera Artistic Director Erin Helyard says, “Athalia is a striking work that combines the chorus and solo voice in new and novel ways…”. As such, Athalia’s enhanced storytelling role given to the chorus, represents an exciting divergence from the period’s traditional oratorio.

Athalia also excitedly welcomes back much of the creative team from Pinchgut’s 2016 acclaimed production of Handel’s Theodora; of which Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter McCallum said, “Time suspended itself for a moment so that truth and beauty could emerge”. With Lindy Hume directing the production, design by Melanie Liertz, lighting by Matthew Marshall, and Pinchgut Artistic Director Erin Helyard conducting from the harpsichord, some of Theodora’s most acclaimed names help recapture Handel’s magic in this production of Athalia.

Australian-born soprano Emma Pearson brings compelling humanity to her protagonist role. Director Hume says, “Emma Pearson is the ideal singer/actor to play the complex and damaged Athalia”, lauding what she describes as Emma’s “virtuosic soprano”.

Artistic Director Helyard similarly praises debuting 13 year old Freddy Shaw’s role as the protected heir Joas, when she compliments Handel’s inclusion of a boy soprano, which “heightens Handel’s desire to play off one another youthfulness and adulthood, apostates and believers, the virtuous and the hypocrites”.   

Helyard describes how Handel’s ideal combination of rich and complex characters, and haunting juxtapositions between chorus and voice, “…create heart-stopping moments when everything clears but for a few strings and a single voice. It’s just magic”.

Perhaps it is the production’s timelessness and the input of a phenomenal team, which has Helyard anticipating Athalia’s Australian debut and world premiere. Helyard says, “This is a magnificent work with thrilling orchestral and choral effects; I can’t wait to begin work on it with such a phenomenal cast.”  

Pinchgut Opera’s Athalia is holding four performances at City Recital Hall in Sydney at the end of June, with the Opera performed in English.

For further information, visit http://www.pinchgutopera.com.au/athalia/