With the opening of Saul, Houston Grand Opera marks a milestone: the North American premiere of the celebrated Handel oratorio.
Originally conceived by Barrie Kosky, it’s conducted by HGO Music Director Patrick Summers. The biblical epic is based on the story of David and Goliath. After David slays the menacing giant, King Saul finds himself is a downward spiral of jealousy and obsession, as he sees his own descent tied to the rise of young David. Christopher Purves sings the title role after an acclaimed run of the production at the Glyndebourne Festival; countertenor and HGO Studio alumnus Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen sings David.
In addition to the two protagonists, the HGO chorus takes on a major role in the production.
“They play the people of Israel, and also, at times, they provide commentary,” explains HGO chorus master Richard Bado. “It’s a very physically demanding show, as well as being a great deal of music with enormous vocal and stylistic demands. We are using a chorus of 40, which is an appropriate amount for a Handel work.”
When Saul was originally written, composers weren’t allowed to write operas about biblical people and events. They got around the rule by writing oratorios, made to be sung without the sets and staging of an opera.
“In truth, it was an opera in disguise,” Bado says of Saul. “But since it is an oratorio, it’s rarely staged. It took a creative director, Barry Kosky, to come up with a concept for the production. We are thrilled that HGO is the company that gets to introduce this exciting production to America.”
Those who think they know the story of David and Goliath should be interested in seeing the piece from the perspective of Saul. Meanwhile, those who love an epic story will find plenty here to latch onto. The story begins right after the famous battle and shows how the young man with the slingshot rose to prominence. Meanwhile, King Saul found himself declining in power and influence.
Bado says in addition to all the juicy drama, audiences will love seeing how involved the HGO chorus is in the production. The members of the chorus all have to audition to be considered for individual operas. They then take part in rigorous rehearsals, both as a group and with the larger cast. Bado says productions like this stretch the group, both musically and dramatically.
“Saul is actually the most physically active production that the chorus has done at HGO since I began in 1988,” he says. “They have a lot of difficult choreography, they are on the ground a lot and have to run around—all while singing in a beautiful fashion. They leave rehearsals exhausted and sore, but exhilarated."
Bado calls the chorus “the jewel in the crown at HGO,” and he’s looking forward to audiences seeing the depth of artistry these singers achieve on the fly.
Oct. 25–Nov. 8. Tickets from $25. Wortham Theatre Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-228-6737. More info and tickets at houstongrandopera.org.