Just one performance on this WNO visit, of Handel’s opera based on his last oratorio, inspired by the account of Jeptha from the Book of Judges and earlier dramatisations of the story. First performance at Covent Garden in 1752.
However this unusual production certainly stretched the imagination well into the 20th Century with battle-scarred city scenery, subdued 1930’s costumes and curiously photographic-style set pieces, particularly for the chorus.
As ever the orchestra gave of their all, this time in Baroque style with no noticeable vibrato in the string. Immaculate playing, but occasionally threatening to overwhelm solo singers standing to the rear of the stage. Conductor Paul Goodwin did a fine job keeping intricate tutti passages together plus sensitive contrasting accompaniments for many heart-stopping moments within the drama.
Well-paced violins supported the splendid depiction of Jephtha by Robert Murray. His superb florid semiquaver passages in true baroque style were a delight. However a brown suit and Homburg hat jarred curiously with the light countertenor voice from Iphis’s lover Hamor (Andrew Radley). Fflur Wynn was his perfect starry-eyed partner however, with totally convincing acting and lovely voice throughout. Another curiosity was the redeeming angel Claire Ormshaw; dark brown trouser-suit plus large white feathery wings.
WNO’s chorus as always delivered the goods, both vocally and dramatically with often constant gentle movement but not enough to worry onlookers. Breathless pianissimos to full fortissimos were all admirably conveyed. Fortunately the story was helped along by simple surtitles clarifying the more obscure prose. Nevertheless, lovely music forgives anything.