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As I was watching this I often found myself wavering between watching closely so that I could follow the visual aspects of this production, with its often strikingly beautiful stage direction, and closing my eyes so that I could follow the music alone. Probably a sign that I should buy the DVD and watch it over again. But this is a phenomenal performance.
I have a friend who dislikes the way David Daniels sounds. He tried to describe to me the quality of Daniels’ voice that he dislikes, but I wasn’t sure what he meant, and I had hoped that listening to this would clarify it for me. I have heard Daniels on CD before in various guises, and almost heard him live recently at the Met but he went and got sick. Anyway. I thought he sounded beautiful here as Didymus. (I will have to buttonhole that friend of mine and see if I can wring more specifics out of him.)
In general the singing here is uniformly excellent. The standout for me was the late, wonderful Lorraine Hunt, about whom in this case the word ‘excellent’ is somewhat cold and falls short of my intended meaning. She caused me to start crying several times. Crying in response to music is such a strange thing, in a way. There are some combinations of sound and emotion that just seem to touch an internal switch and tears are the only possible response. Hunt’s performances have often elicited this from me, and this one certainly does. Here is Irene’s aria “As with rosy steps the morn”:
The orchestral playing here from The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under William Christie is of a piece with the rest of the performance. It has that same sense of spaciousness. In terms of detail, I was struck by the solo flute at the beginning of the section where we first see Theodora imprisoned – there is something haunting about that. There are many other places like this in this performance, where some detail of the orchestral music seems to expand into the space of the drama for a moment or two.
I could probably say a lot more about this production — there are any number of musical and dramatic details that are worth exploring that I haven’t mentioned. But one has to stop at some point. If you haven’t seen this already, go watch it.