Overview

Belshazzar

 

‘Biblical high drama’

 

Composer | Georg Frideric Handel

Librettist | Charles Jennens

In collaboration with | The Sixteen – Choir & Orchestra

Sung in English

 

 

From the Book of Daniel, Handel’s dramatic oratorio tells of the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the freeing of the Jewish nation. This is grand Baroque opera, an early Aida perhaps. The chorus plays centre stage, at once pleasure-seeking Babylonians, or solemn Jews, or noble Persians.

This previously rarely staged masterpiece provides the perfect opportunity for a unique collaboration between The Grange Festival and The Sixteen in a celebration of their 40th anniversary. The Grange Festival chorus and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra under their founding director Harry Christophers, with a starry cast of Handelian luminaries, will bring Biblical high drama to thrilling life at The Grange.

Our production of another Handel masterpiece, Agrippina, in 2018 wowed audiences and critics alike. We were consistently dazzled by 5 stars.  Belshazzar promises more of the same except this time it is in English and it has electrifying choruses. Creating a world class choral unit from The Sixteen and The Grange Festival chorus promises something special and unique, never to be heard again.  1743 was an annus mirabilis for Handel. His music for Belshazzar is inspired, thrilling and humane. 

Production Team
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Harry Christophers

Conductor

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Daniel Slater

Director

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Robert Innes Hopkins

Designer

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Peter Mumford

Lighting Designer

Daniel studied at Bristol and Cambridge.

Opera productions include: Peter Grimes (Brisbane Festival/Opera Queensland); L’elisir d’amore (Pittsburgh Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera North, Oviedo, WNO, New Zealand Festival  (Yekaterinburg Opera, Graz Opera); Fidelio (Royal Festival Hall); Salome, Wozzeck (Santa Fe Opera); Aida, Eugene Onegin (Opera Holland Park); Xerxes (Royal Opera, Stockholm); The Bartered Bride (Opera North, New Zealand Opera, Valencia, Opéra National du Rhin); Fortunio, Rigoletto, Falstaff (Grange Park Opera); Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Don Giovanni, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, La Cenerentola, La gazza ladra (Garsington Opera); Tannhäuser (Estonian National Opera); Nabucco (Vlaamse Opera); Lohengrin (San Francisco, Houston, Geneva); Tristan und Isolde (Norwegian National Opera); La traviata (Houston); Peter Grimes and Don Pasquale (Geneva); L’Arbore di Diana (Valencia); Samson (Buxton Festival);The Betrothal in a Monastery (Glyndebourne Festival, Valencia); Manon Lescaut (Oviedo, Norwegian National Opera, Opera North); Manon (Opera North); The Cunning Little Vixen (Bregenz Festival, San Francisco, Geneva, Garsington); Der Vogelhändler, The Barber of Seville (Komische Oper, Berlin); La bohème (Opera North, Scottish Opera, Opera Ireland).

Opera:

Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Rigoletto (Lyric Opera Chicago); In Parenthesis, War and Peace, Rigoletto, Flying Dutchman (Welsh National Opera); Madame Butterfly (Den Jyske Opera); Charodeika (Teatro di San Carlo, Naples); The Italian Girl in Algier, Peter Grimes, Billy Budd (Santa Fe Opera); Tosca, Lohengrin, The Cunning Little Vixen (San Francisco Opera); Tristan und Isolde (La Fenice Venice); Aida (Opera Holland Park); The Cunning Little Vixen, Mamoetto II (Garsington Opera).

 

Theatre:

Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus, Don Quixote, Oppenheimer (RSC); Neville’s Island, Speed the Plow, Clybourne Park (West End); Kenny Morgan (Arcola); Other Desert Cities (Old Vic); Noises Off (Nottingham Playhouse/Northern Stage/Nuffield Southampton); The Crucible, Swallows and Amazons (Bristol Old Vic); Lady In The Van, Kafka’s Dick (Theatre Royal Bath); King Lear (Chichester Festival Theatre/BAM ); The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Chichester Festival Theatre/UK Tour); A Doll’s House (NT Scotland); The Crucible (Bristol Old Vic); Twelfth Night, Romeo And Juliet (Regent’s Park); Arturo Ui (New York); The Weavers (Awarded Critics Circle Designer Of The Year at The Gate) The Member Of The Wedding (Young Vic).

Recent opera and dance includes Carmen (The Grange Festival); Corybantic Games (Royal Ballet); The King Dances, Edward II,

E=mc2 and Faster (BRB); Carmen (Miami City Ballet); Ein Reigen (Vienna State Ballet); Katya Kabanova (Boston Lyric Opera); Manon Lescaut, Werther, Carmen (Metropolitan Opera, NYC ); La Traviata (Glyndebourne); Damnation of Faust and Madame Butterfly (ENO). He directed and designed concert stagings of The Ring Cycle (Opera North), Otello (Bergen National Opera) and Fidelio (Orchestre de Chambre de Paris). Theatre includes My Name Is Lucy Barton (The Bridge); The Way Of The World (Donmar Warehouse), Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Ferryman and 42nd Street (West End), The Stepmother (Chichester) and The Slaves of Solitude (Hampstead). Awards include Oliviers for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, 1995, Best Lighting Design, 2005. The South Bank Sky Arts Opera Award (The Ring Cycle (Opera North), 2017) and the Helpmann and Green Room Awards for Best Lighting (King Kong, 2013).

Cast
See bio

Robert Murray

Belshazzar

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Rosemary Joshua

Nitocris

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Christopher Ainslie

Cyrus

See bio

Henry Waddington

Gobrias

See bio

James Laing

Daniel

Robert Murray studied at the Royal College of Music and National Opera Studio.  He won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier awards 2003 and was a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

He has sung for the ROH, ENO, Opera North, Garsington, Welsh National Opera, Norwegian Opera, Hamburg State Opera and Salzburg Festival; in recital at the Wigmore Hall, and the Newbury, Two Moors, Brighton, Aldeburgh and Edinburgh festivals; in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra (Rattle), Simon Bolivar (Dudamel), Le Concert D’Astrée (Haïm), City of Birmingham Symphony (Mackerras), Rotterdam Philharmonic (Nezet-Seguin) Philharmonia (Salonen) and BBC Proms (Gardiner). He sang Dream of Gerontius with the Seattle Symphony (Gardner).

This season he sings Tom Rakewell at the Wilton’s Music Hall with Laurence Cummings conducting, returns to ENO as Flute A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and performs in a staging of the St John Passion by Calixto Bieito in Bilbao; in concert he appears with the Boston Philharmonic (Benjamin Zander), Gabrieli Consort (Paul McCreesh) and Handel & Haydn Society (Harry Christophers).

 

Christopher Ainslie started his singing career as a chorister in Cape Town, and now lives between the USA, Germany, and the UK, performing at leading venues around the world.

 

Ainslie’s significant opera roles include Orfeo Orfeo ed Euridice for Opéra de Lyon and Opéra National de Lorraine, Ottone L’incoronazione di Poppea, David Saul, and Eustazio Rinaldo for Glyndebourne, Oberon Midsummer Night’s Dream for Opera North, Ottone Agrippina and the title role in Tamerlano for the Göttingen Handel Festival, the title role in Amadigi for Central City Opera and at the Wigmore Hall, Unulfo Rodelinda for Teatro Real and English National Opera, the title role in Artaxerxes for the Royal Opera House, and world premieres as Antonio The Merchant of Venice for Bregenzer Festspiele, Theseus/Messenger Thebans for ENO, and Innocent 4 The Minotaur for the Royal Opera House.

In 2017/18, he sang Giulio Cesare for English Touring Opera, Oberon at ENO, Ottone at The Grange Festival, and appeared with Les Musiciens du Louvre and Marc Minkowski. Recent and future engagements include Unulfo Rodelinda in his return to Opera de Lyon, as well as debuts at Semperoper Dresden, National Opera of Chile, and Théâtre du Châtelet.

Henry Waddington studied at the Royal Northern College of Music.   He has sung regularly with all the major UK opera companies as well as with La Monnaie Brussels, Liceu Barcelona, de Nederlandse Opera, Teatro Real Madrid and Stuttgart Staatstheater.  His repertoire includes Baron Ochs Der Rosenkavalier, the title role in Saul, Banquo Macbeth, Colline La bohème, Don Basilio Il barbiere di Siviglia, Tutor Le comte Ory, Geronimo The Secret Marriage, Publio La clemenza di Tito, Plutone Orfeo, Valens Theodora, Soljony Three Sisters (Eotvos), Leporello Don Giovanni, Don Magnifico Cenerentola, Don Fernando Fidelio, Don Alfonso Così fan tutte, Pallante Agrippina, Frère Laurent Roméo et Juliette as well as Quince and Bottom A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Recent/future operatic engagements include Man at window/Old man Youth/Beggar in Martinu’s Julietta, Jupiter Castor and Pollux, Sacristan Tosca and Lt. Ratcliffe Billy Budd  (ENO), Spinellocchio Gianni Schicci (ROH), Bartolo Figaro (WNO), Lt. Ratcliffe (Netherlands Opera), Pallante (Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona), Pastor Oberlin Jakob Lenz (Staatstheater Stuttgart,  La Monnaie and Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin),  Kothner Die Meistersingers and the title role Saul (Glyndebourne), Publio La clemenza di Tito, Lodovico Otello, Handel Joshua, Bottom A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Baron Ochs and Don Magnifico (Opera North), Priest Cunning Little Vixen and title role Falstaff (Garsington, Swallow Peter Grimes (Aldeburgh), Quince (Aix en Provence Festival), Bottom (New National Theatre, Tokyo), Baron Ochs (Norwegian Opera) as well as concert performances of Wozzeck (Philharmonia under Esa Pekka Salonen in Europe and the US),  Messiah (Ulster Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Cleveland Orchestra), Beethoven 9 (Classical Opera Company and The Creation with Huddersfield Choral Society).

James Laing has sung for companies including the Royal Opera, London, Classical Opera, the Early Opera Company, English National Opera, Garsington Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Grange Park Opera, Opera Holland Park, Opera North and Welsh National Opera. International engagements have included the Göttingen Festival, the Opéra de Nice and the Dresden Semperoper.

Concert engagements have included performances with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Dunedin Consort, the Hallé, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the National Orchestra of Spain, the Netherlands Bach Society, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. North American engagements have included performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Arion Baroque of Montréal and Tafelmusik in Toronto.

Current engagements include creating Peter in Daniel Bjarnason’s Brødre (Den Jyske Opera and Icelandic Opera), Apollo Death in Venice (Landestheater Linz), The Refugee Flight (Scottish Opera), Tolomeo Giulio Cesare (Opera North) and a return to ENO to create Terry in Nico Muhly’s Marnie.

 

His recordings include J. S. Bach Magnificat (Atma CD), The Adventures of Pinocchio (Opus Arte Blu Ray / DVD) and Tobias and the Angel (Chandos CD).

Synopsis
Story

Despite the warnings of his mother Queen Nitocris, King Belshazzar of Babylon commits sacrileges against the God of the Jews, who are in captivity there. The city is besieged, Belshazzar is slain, and the Jews are freed to return to their homeland by Cyrus the Great of Persia.

Act I

Babylon, 538 BC. The city is besieged by an army of Medes and Persians, led by Cyrus.

 

The Palace in Babylon.

 

Nitocris, the mother of Belshazzar, muses on the fortunes than can affect even the most powerful. Nitocris has become convinced that the God of the Jews, held in captivity in Babylon,is the true God. She prays to Him. The Jewish prophet Daniel, whom she has learnt to trust, comes to her. She is concerned about the fate of the empire under the rule of her wayward son. Daniel advises her that devotion to God will be rewarded.

 

The camp of Cyrus.  A view of the city of Babylon, the river Euphrates running through it

 

The Babylonians watch from the city walls and deride Cyrus and his army for making what they believe are impractical preparations for storming the city. Gobrias, a Babylonian noble who has defected to Cyrus, fears they are right. Gobrias longs for revenge for the death of his son at the hands of Belshazzar. Cyrus assures him he will prevail, inspired by the idea to drain the river and march into the city along the dry riverbed. The upcoming Babylonian feast of Sesach, at which traditon demands licentious revels, is a perfect opportunity.  Cyrus dedicates himself to the, as yet unknown to him, powerful deity whom he feels is directing his steps  His soldiers comment that great deeds are only possible with divine assistance.

 

Daniel’s house.

 

Daniel is consulting sacred Jewish texts. He feels sure that he and his fellow Jews will soon gain their freedom. Daniel has found a prophesy showing Cyrus as anointed of the Lord and who will imminently overthrow Babylon and release the Jews from their captivity. The Jews praise God for His mercy.

 

The Palace.

 

Belsahzzar, with his mother, Babylonians and Jews present, is drunkenly celebrating the feast of Sesach.  His mother Nitocris rebukes him for his riotous excess. Belshazzar cites custom and orders further imbibing from sacred Jewish vessels. His mother is horrified by such sacrilege and the Jews beg the King not to perform such a profanation. Belshazzar rejects his mother’s entreaties. The Jews comment that the Lord is slow to anger but his anger will eventually be roused.

Act II

Outside the city, the river almost empty.

 

The Persians are elated that Cyrus’ scheme has succeeded and the Euphrates has been diverted. Cyrus assures his army that now is the perfect time to attack as their enemies will be off their guard after feasting. The army is eager to follow him into battle.

 

A banqueting hll adorned with images of Babylonian gods.

 

The Babylonians are feasting. Belshazzar taunts the God of Israel. A  hand appears writing on the wall above him. On seeing it he is terrified, and summons his wise men and soothsayers. They fail to offer any elucidation. Queen Nitocris advises her son to call the prophet Daniel to interpret the writing.  “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” he translates as “You have been tried in the balance and found wanting”. Queen Nitocris is greatly distressed and begs her son to abandon his profligate ways.

 

Inside the City.

 

Cyrus gives thanks that he and his army have succeeded in entering Babylon. He orders Gobrias, who is familiar with the city, to lead the way, and commands that no Babylonian except the tyrant King shall be harmed. His men praise his wisdom and mercy.

Act III

The palace

Nitocris wavers between hope that her son will see the error of his ways and despair that the empire under his rule is doomed. Daniel advises her that there is little chance of Belshazzar’s reformation. They receive news that Babylon has been invaded by Cyrus and his army. This alarms the Queen but elates the Jews.

Belshazzar, inspired by Sesach, fights Cyrus and the Persians. Belshazzar is killed and Gobrias gives thanks to God. The victorious Cyrus orders that the Queen Mother Nitocris and the prophet Daniel should come to no harm. Nitocris thanks him for his clemency. Cyrus promises to be a second son to her. The prophet Daniel tells Cyrus he has fulfilled the Lord’s predictions. Cyrus pledges to rebuild Jerusalem and allow the Jews to return there. Daniel, Nitocris, and the Jews give thanks to God.