Biblical high drama
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. Giving a whole new theatrical dimension to this dramatic oratorio in the experienced hands and thrilling imagination of Director Daniel Slater and Designer Robert Innes Hopkins is an exciting prospect.
- Composer — Georg Frideric Handel
- Librettist — Charles Jennens
- In collaboration with — The Sixteen - Choir and Orchestra
Harry Christopher Conductor
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
~ 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 being besieged by an army of Medes and Persians, led by Cyrus.
The Palace in Babylon
Nitocris, the mother of Belshazzar, muses on the changes than can affect even the most powerful. Nitocris has become convinced that the God of the Jews, who are being held in captivity in Babylon, is the true God. 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, with 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 impracticable 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 which was caused by 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 tradition 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 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.
Belshazzar, 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 all be off their guard feasting. The army is eager to follow him into battle.
A banqueting hall 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 tyrannical King shall be harmed. His men praise his wisdom and mercy.
~ Act III ~
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.
Henry Waddington Gobrias