The tale is entirely biblical. In I Samuel, the story
of Saul tells of the first king of Israel's
relationship with his eventual successor, one
which turns from admiration to envy and
hatred, ultimately leading to the downfall of the
eponymous monarch. Saul like David was the
son of a herdsman, appointed king by the
Israelites against the wishes of prophet Samuel
and his God. That’s a bad start to a reign,
especially since despite a lot of slaying of Israel’s
enemies he kept breaking God’s orders as
conveyed by Samuel, such as to kill all the
enemies’ cattle. God gave up on him even before
our story starts. After our story David wages war
on Israel successfully and so becomes its king.
An opera? No, it’s an
turned to oratorio
when Italian opera
style lost support in
London. (Read about
the difference) A
here with an account
of Handel’s relations
with the librettist,
The voice parts in
Saul are gems of
baroque. David’s role
offers glorious arias
Listen to “Oh Lord,
whose mercies numberless” from Hungarian
countertenor Gábor Birta, Paul Esswood, and
Andreas Scholl. But the chorus towers
throughout Saul. Hear it in debate with Saul.
And of course everyone who’s ever been to a
state funeral knows the Dead March. It must
be the most travelled of Handel’s pieces.
Compare Stokowski’s orchestration with this
simple presentation. It’s the funeral anthem for
Saul and Jonathan.
We are watching Barrie Kosky’s famous
production for Glyndebourne - “‘What do you
get when you trust an Australian maverick
with the sacred solemnities of Handel's
oratorio? A knockout.” (Telegraph). It played
last week at the Adelaide Festival. For a
wonderful insight go to the images here.
“Kosky’s baroque extravaganza could power
SA’s electricity grid for a month.” Read
Limelight’s splendid review.