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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Handel turned upside down

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Jeanine de Bique (Nitocris/l.), Vivicagenaux (Cyrus)
Image: Werner Kmetitsch
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The MusikTheater an der Wien is cultivating its Handel tradition at the alternate venue Museumsquartier and under new directorship: on Monday with gripping climate activism and the fight against abuse of power based on Handel’s rarely performed oratorio “Belshazzar”. Director Marie-Eve Signeyrole tackles hot topics: Here people have to fight for water, which potentates can obtain from a commercial “source”. Who is behind this is Belshazzar, who has enslaved his people. The parallels to current events become topical with video sequences in the sense of a live connection to scenes of human horror.

What this has to do with Handel’s oratorio may be questioned. But a lot of what Signeyrole has put into the impressive set of Fabien Teigné (stage) and Yashi (costumes) can be interpreted from the text and has gripping consequences in the development. An exciting evening emerges, which is characterized by the great approach to the music of Christina Pluhar and her ensemble L’Arpeggiata. Pluhar uses additional percussion and seems to stay in the background, apart from a few outstanding festive music, where the ensemble sets the tone with fine phrasing and perfectly supports the singers.

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Robert Murray plays Belshazzar expressively and finely converts Handel’s tenor role. Jeanine de Bique slips into the center as his mother Nitocris and is therefore allowed to celebrate most of the arias, which she succeeds in stylistically and creatively with ornaments in the da capo parts. Vivicagenaux mutates as Cyrus from king to climate activist who triumphs over Belshazzar and finely shapes the small role, as does Eva Zaïcik as a Jewish prophet turned biotechnologist. Michael Nagl is a fine Gobrias, and the Arnold Schönberg Choir demonstrates its mastery as an opera choir in all its facets.

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