Producing Handel’s oratorio Saul sets challenges but offers opportunities too. Like most oratorios, biblical music composed for rendition in a church or chapel, there was initially nothing more than the music so any director has total licence.
There is no composer or operatic tradition on his/her shoulder. Director Barrie Kosky gives full rein to his imagination with colourful sets and even the playing of a baroque piano like a Wurlitzer. Some of Handel’s musical instruments like the Tubalcain no longer exist and the trombone in the eighteenth century was quite different. The orchestration at Glyndebourne is always first rate and this was no exception.
Unlike an opera there are no great arias, it’s mainly recitative. It’s natural latterday heirs are Godspell, Joseph And His Amazing Coloured Dream Coat and Jesus Christ Superstar. Neither the melodies nor the singing were memorable but colourful sets and the story of jealousy of King Saul to the warrior David, one of his daughters judging herself too good for him and his son Jonathan often depicted in a homo erotic relationship with him, Saul going mad has enough momentum to dispel longeurs. In the first scene the huge decapitated head of Goliath sits central stage.
The scene where Saul speaks to the ghost of Samuel begins with the head of Samuel then his body emerging from the earth. There is much choreographed dancing. It is a zesty production.
Happily with the temperature hitting 30* dress code was relaxed though many like me still wore a tuxedo, open necked shirts were the order of the day. Glyndebourne’s audience is ageing and if they want to attract a new younger one to country house opera then this relaxation must continue though the oldies will complain.