Classical: Grand Theatre, Leeds

Anna Picard on Joshua: Pity the poor bloody infantry

A provocative interpretation plunges a Handel oratorio into the violent era of modern Israel’s foundation

Inspired by Rudi Weissenstein’s photographs of Palestine in the 1930s and 40s, Charles Edwards’s choreographed production of Handel’s oratorio Joshua proposes a parallel between the Old Testament story of the warrior who razed the walls of Jericho and the creation of the modern state of Israel.

Here is idealism, heroism and corruption: the establishment of a homeland for the dispossessed of Europe, the planting of olive trees and the irrigation of crops, the celebration of Passover, the militarisation of a civilian population and the rise of orthodoxy and expansionism. In the famous chorus “See the conquering hero comes”, Edwards juxtaposes the blithe voices of the children’s choir with a vision of horror, as Jake Arditti’s Othniel, shepherd-turned-soldier, returns from battle bloodied and with a broken heart, having conquered a land of fat grapes at Joshua’s command. The critique is Edwards’, not Handel’s, though the composer revealed his distaste for fundamentalism in other oratorios.

The production budget is tight, the moral tone ruthless, the imagery tirelessly beautiful and provocative. Edwards is director, designer and lighting designer, stripping the stage back to its loading bay, his side-lighting suggestive of the pitiless heat outside. There are false notes and vexations: the Angel (treble Glyn Webster) appears as an Anglican choirboy, wielding a machine-gun, while the patriarch Caleb (Henry Waddington) is bloated and befouled by power, thrusting his fat hands up the skirt of his terrified daughter, Achsah (Fflur Wyn). Achsah’s change  from frail refugee to sexually confident pioneer, then cowed chattel, is pivotal. Wyn’s singing is exemplary, her love- scene with Arditti’s boyish Othniel  tender and erotic and tragic, while Daniel Norman’s Joshua remains enigmatic, a strategist untroubled by doubt.

Opera North’s orchestra gamely tackles Baroque bowing and ornamentation, the strings blanched, the woodwind and brass bright. Belting out Verdi, however, is no preparation for Handel’s lithe passage-work and nimble word-setting and the chorus is not helped by Stephen Layton’s conducting, pianissimi descending like pea-soupers over the slower numbers. While those on stage have embraced this oratorio as opera, Layton remains in the organ loft.

MESSIAH, ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH, SMARDEN, KENT

The depth of enthusiasm for staged productions of Handel’s oratorios was palpable at the end of the Merry Opera Company’s performance of Messiah in St Michael the Archangel’s Church, in the Kentish village of Smarden last weekend. In the absence of named characters, director John Ramster had assigned a short biography to each of the 12 singers, to explain what had brought them to church in a state of spiritual crisis. In Part 1, they arrived as disparate individuals – matronly parishioner, tearful wedding guest, owlish student, city gent, angry teenager – and a sense of community was haltingly achieved through the shared telling of the Nativity story. In Part 2’s Crucifixion narrative, they reconvened as mourners, grief fracturing the connections that had been made. In Part 3, all were dressed in white, secure in their belief in the Resurrection.

Gestures ranged from over-literal (massed waggling of toes in “How beautiful are the feet”) to abstract. Arms spread wide as though flying was a recurring motif, as was spinning, Dervish-style. I’ve felt the urge to do this myself during Messiah but it’s not helpful when you’re trying to coordinate semi-quaver runs across the widest nave in rural Kent.

As with the different treatments of Winterreise by Katie Mitchell and Thomas Guthrie, there was a sense of this being a stress-test for Messiah. Great works survive these experiments. More than that, they seem to grow and glow. No one could pretend that Merry Opera offer an ideal Handelian vocal consort – the variety of age, timbre and style among the voices is too wide for that. But the energy and commitment was inspiring, with a stylish and exciting “But who may abide the day of His coming?” from mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, an insouciant “Thou shalt break them” from tenor Thomas Herford, and sterling work from organist Chad Kelly.

Handel’s Messiah, so great and so intimate, remains open to many interpretations, many voices.

‘Messiah’: Sunday, 3pm, St John’s Smith Square, London (020-7222 1061)

CRITIC'S CHOICE

The Elias String Quartet begin their two-year Beethoven Project at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton (Tue). At London’s Barbican Hall, mezzo Magdalena Kozená, pianist Malcolm Martineau, flautist Kaspar Zehnder and cellist Tomas Jamnik perform Ravel’s Chansons madécasses and Mélodies hébraïques plus Haydn and Bartók (Wed). Fortepianist Robert Levin directs the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (Thu) and City Halls, Glasgow (Fri).

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss