Conducted by Brett Weymark
Directed by Tobias Cole
Handel in the Theatre
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 29 October
Reviewed by Len Power 28 October 2017
Generally acknowledged to be the first English oratorio, ‘Esther’ was originally composed in 1718, but was heavily revised into a full oratorio in 1732 including Handel’s coronation anthems ‘My Heart is Inditing’ and a version of 'Zadok the Priest’. It’s troubling that hundreds of years after it was composed, the religious persecution theme of the show is still applicable today.
Esther, married to King Ahaseurus of Persia, is secretly Jewish. The Prime Minister, Haman, orders the extermination of all Jews throughout the Persian empire. Mordecai asks Esther to appeal to her husband to rescind the order, but she risks death if she approaches the King without being sent for.
Tobias Cole’s impressive production works on every level. With a simple and gently humorous introduction to the work at the beginning, including an explanation of the characters, Cole gave the audience a clear understanding of the story about to be played out on stage.
There was impressive singing by all of the principles. Janet Todd was a charming and believable Esther, Tobias Cole was a delightfully quirky King, Sally-Anne Russell was very moving as Mordecai and David Greco was a deeply sinister Haman. Alison Richardson and Keren Dalzell gave heartfelt performances in the roles of the Israelites.
There was fine singing by the dramatic chorus and the addition of a balcony chorus in the coronation anthems produced a thrilling and all-enveloping sound.
The orchestra, conducted by Brett Weymark played the score superbly. There was a good sound balance between the orchestra and the singers.
Production values for the show were high. Imogen Keen designed the lavish and colourful set and period costumes and the lighting design by Cynthia Jolley-Rogers added considerably to the atmosphere of the show.
Particularly notable was the choreography by Belynda Buck who gave the dramatic chorus stylised but emotionally valid moves that added considerably to their musical performance.
This was a wonderful opportunity to hear Handel’s score beautifully played and sung. That it was staged so well by Tobias Cole was an added bonus.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.