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Directed by Christof Nel – A Film by Don Kent
Set Designer: Roland Aeschlimann
Costume Designer: Bettina Walter
Produced by Bel Air Media / Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2008
Handel's Belshazzar at the Aix Festival was imported from the Staatsoper Berlin. Berlin had built a huge, magnificent production and imported English and American opera singers, including star-turn countertenor Bejun Mehta. Add to this a superb local Baroque instrumental ensemble and an accomplished vocal ensemble, not to mention the world-renowned early music conductor, René Jacobs: and voilà, an operatic hit.
Christophe Nel, a well-respected director in progressive German opera houses teamed up with famed Swiss minimalist set designer Roland Aeschlimann and costume designer Bettina Walter to create a production which respected the supposed austerity of oratorio. This experienced team brought Handel's not-so-high drama and philosophic tragedy to almost operatic dramatic standards as the Persian prince Cyrus overran the dissolute Babylonians and freed the captive Jews.
“The Persian prince Cyrus, was sumptuously sung in heroic stances by Bejun Mehta; Rosemary Joshua, Belshazzar's mother Nitocris, sang in convincingly Handelian terms, and convincingly portrayed a religious zealot troubled by her wayward son. Most beautiful too was the singing of Neal Davies as the Syrian Gobrias, whose son had been killed by the dissolute emperor Belshazzar, a role also well sung and broadly characterised by American tenor, Kenneth Tarver. The star of the show was the RIAS-Kammerchor, able to personify Babylonians or Jews at the drop of a hat, singing magnificently. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin again proved itself a world-class chamber ensemble." musicwebinternational
“the dramatic essence of the story...comes over in a striking semi-expressionist fashion. There's a strong set of central performances. Though Tarver is encouraged to go over the top as Nel's bisexual hedonist villain, his bright and brilliant tenor is purposefully deployed...Joshua supplies sobriety and maternal concern on a grand scale...Mehta's King Cyrus is immaculately sung and powerfully acted...Jacobs proves a consistently lively presence”
“Happily, stage producers Christof Nel and Martina Jochem place their faith entirely in Charles Jennen's plot and characters...The capable RIAS Chamber Choir get stuck into the dramatic story and the entire cast achieve an abundance of highly effective acting and dramatic visual ideas...Most of the singers are superb and their acting draws us into the contrasting moralities and fortunes of their characters.”
“Ten minutes into this gripping performance and you understand Rene Jacobs's enthusiasm for the idea [of staging it] - the music lends itself perfectly to dramatization...Jacobs and his cast respond thoughtfully, but not over-zealously, to Handel's vivid characterization...[Tarver] looks and sounds like the perfect Belshazzar...Joshua is spellbinding...[Mehta] has an instinctive feel for Handel...it's one of the most convincing stagings of a Handel oratorio I've seen.”
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