'There is nothing safe about this show. It's a knockout that brings the work blazingly alive and transforms bewigged pieties into high human drama.’
‘Musically this evening is well-nigh flawless. No praise too high for the singing of Davies, Appleby, and Purves; of Lucy Crowe and Sophie Bevan as Merab and Michal respectively, and of Benjamin Hullett as a cross between a clown and a soothsayer.’
‘Barrie Kosky’s first show for the company is a theatrical and musical feast of energetic choruses, surreal choreography and gorgeous singing ... Ivor Bolton conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with tremendous elan: theatrically and musically, this is one of Glyndebourne’s finest shows of recent years.’
A new production for Festival 2015
This Glyndebourne premiere of Handel’s Saul marks the company debut of the brilliant and provocative Australian opera and theatre director Barrie Kosky. He delves deep into this score of heart-breaking beauty and intensity to create an associative dreamscape, a Baroque nightmare world in which this mythic tale of a Lear-like mad king and his crumbling family unfolds.
Freely adapted from the Biblical First Book of Samuel, Saul centres on the first King of Israel’s complicated relationship with his eventual successor, David, which evolves from admiration to envy and hatred and finally leads to Saul’s tragic demise. The drama is heightened by David’s friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, who Saul tries to enlist to destroy David. The characterisations of Saul and David are among Handel’s most powerful and vivid, making Saul , in the words of Handel scholar Winton Dean, ‘one of the supreme masterpieces of dramatic art, comparable with the Oresteia and King Lear’.
The first of Handel’s great English oratorios, Saul melds operatic-style, psychologically probing arias with mighty choruses. Handel conceived it on a grand scale, with an unusually large orchestra for the time and novel instrumental colours including a carillon, a solo harp, large timpani, extra woodwinds, trombones (rarely found in orchestras at that time), and a virtuosic organ part which he wrote for himself.
Ivor Bolton leads the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with a cast of distinguished Handelians and Glyndebourne favourites including the commanding Christopher Purves in the title role, last season’s virtuosic Rinaldo, Iestyn Davies and acclaimed soprano Lucy Crowe, as well as the elegant young American tenor Paul Appleby, making his UK debut.
Photo: Daniel Josefsohn
Listen to the Saul podcast:
Presenter: Katie Derham. Produced by Katherine Godfrey for Whistledown Productions for the 2015 Glyndebourne Festival. Music from The Sixteen recording of Saul courtesy of CORO. David’s aria ‘Oh Lord Whose Mercies Numberless’ taken from Arias for Gaudagni courtesy of Hyperion Records.
Sung in English with supertitles
Supported by Vahid Alaghband and a Syndicate of Individuals
Edited by Percy M. Young. Published by Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel, represented by Faber Music, London
Cast and creative team
Conductor Ivor Bolton
Director Barrie Kosky
Designer Katrin Lea Tag
Choreographer Otto Pichler
Lighting Designer Joachim Klein
Assistant to the Choreographer Silvano Marraffa
Saul Christopher Purves
Henry Waddington (6, 12, 15 August)
David Iestyn Davies
Merab Lucy Crowe
Michal Sophie Bevan
Jonathan Paul Appleby
High Priest Benjamin Hulett
Witch of Endor John Graham-Hall
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Date Start Interval Finish Train departs Victoria Thu 23 Jul 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Sun 26 Jul 2015 4:05pm 6:00pm 8:25pm 12.47pm Wed 29 Jul 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Sat 1 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Thu 6 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Wed 12 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Sat 15 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Mon 17 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46m Thu 20 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Sat 22 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Tue 25 Aug 2015* 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Thu 27 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm Sat 29 Aug 2015 5:20pm 7:15pm 9:40pm 1.46pm
*Glyndebourne Under 30s performance
The Israelites give thanks to God and sing praises to David for his victory over Goliath, the Philistine giant. David is welcomed by Saul, King of Israel, his son Jonathan, his two daughters Michal and Merab, and Abner, his commander-in-chief. Jonathan swears eternal friendship to David. Saul offers David Merab’s hand in marriage, but she scorns his humble origins. Her sister Michal, however, is in love with him. The women of Israel offer further tributes to David, which makes Saul furiously jealous and fearful for his crown. After he leaves, Jonathan reproaches the women for their rash words and urges David to soothe Saul by playing his harp.
Abner returns to report Saul’s madness. Saul reappears venting his anger and attempts to kill David, who manages to escape unharmed. Saul commands Jonathan to destroy David, while Merab comments on her father’s capricious behaviour. Jonathan feels torn between his conflicting loyalties to David and to his father. The High Priest and the Israelites pray for David’s safety.
The people of Israel ponder the destructive power of jealousy. Jonathan confesses to David that Saul has ordered him to kill him, but that he will never harm David. He tells David that Saul has given his daughter Merab to another man, but David is undisturbed, since he loves Michal. Jonathan urges David to escape. Saul arrives and asks Jonathan if he has obeyed his command to kill David, and Jonathan pleads with his father to spare his friend. Saul seemingly relents, asking Jonathan to summon David back to court. Jonathan welcomes David back, while Saul feigns friendship, offering David Michal’s hand and appointing him commander of the Israelite army. David promises loyalty. Saul voices his secret hope that David will be slain by the Philistines. Michal and David declare their love for one another. The chorus praises David’s virtue.
Upon his return from battle, David tells Michal of Saul’s anger, treachery and attempt to kill him. Michal urges him to escape. Doeg, Saul’s messenger, arrives to arrest David, but David once again escapes. Merab, who has softened toward David, expresses her fear for his safety and her faith that Jonathan will save him. At the Feast of the New Moon, Saul declares his intention to destroy David. He questions Jonathan about David’s absence and reproaches him siding with his enemy. When Jonathan defends David, Saul flies into a rage and attempts to murder his own son. The Israelites warn of the dire consequences of Saul’s anger.
In disguise, Saul goes to consult the Witch of Endor, whose magic he had previously outlawed. The Witch complies with Saul’s request to conjure the ghost of Samuel. The ghost of Samuel tells Saul that Israel will be defeated by the Philistines, and Saul and his sons killed, after which the kingdom will pass to David. After the battle, David questions an Amalekite about its outcome and learns of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and the defeat of the Israelites. The Israelites, David and Merab mourn the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. The High Priest urges the Israelites to celebrate the return of David, and the people extol David and entreat him to lead them into battle and redress the defeat of their nation.