Opera Scotland

Judas Maccabaeus

Music

George Frideric Handel (born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759.

Text

Thomas Morell.

Sources

The Apocrypha (First Book of Maccabaeus) and Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus.

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Covent Garden), 1 April 1747.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc.

 

Background

Many of Handel's great operas and oratorios were staged in London by the Handel Opera Society in the decades after the Second World War. Oratorios given successful productions, in addition to Acis and Galatea, Hercules and Semele (really English operas, with no religious content), included Saul, Belshazzar, Jephtha, Joshua, Susanna and many others. By the eighties, the operas were at last recognised as works of genius and entering the general repertoire. Those valuable annual explorations ceased, the battle won, funding removed. Oratorios including Jephtha, Theodora, Saul, Samson, even Messiah, have been effectively staged in more recent years, but Judas Maccabaeus seems to have slipped out of fashion and escaped the attentions of enterprising directors.

Judas was composed following the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion, and instantly became a popular success, that popularity continuing through the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century. It was also one of the most popular oratorios in Scotland, where the lowland population was overwhelmingly protestant and therefore fiercely anti-Jacobite. The importance of that aspect is likely to have receded subsequently, to be replaced throughout the nineteenth century by the fashion for all things Sir Walter Scottish, and by an increase in sympathy for the clans. More recently, the reduction of the previous religious imbalance may also have been a factor.

 

Characters

Israelitish Man (mezzo-soprano)

Israelitish Woman (soprano)

Simon, brother of Judas Maccabaeus (bass)

Judas Maccabaeus, son of Mattathias (tenor)

Messenger (countertenor)

Eupolemus, Jewish Ambassador to Rome (bass)

 

Plot Summary

In 169BC Judaea was conquered by the Syrian forces of Antiochus. Over the next few years, Jewish resistance continued under the leadership of Mattathias.

The oratorio opens as the death of Mattathias in 161BC plunges the Jews into mourning. Judas is appointed as leader in succession to his father (on the recommendation of his brother, Simon). His leadership is successful, defeating a joint Samarian and Syrian force. But Antiochus's response is to send another army under Gorgias. Judas is again victorious, and his arrival in Jerusalem is greeted with adulation. Word arrives from Rome that the future independence of Judaea has been guaranteed by the Romans.

The Cast

Eupolemus
 Jewish Ambassador to Rome
Israelitish Man
 
Israelitish Woman
 
Judas Maccabaeus
 son of Mattathias
Messenger
 
Simon
 brother of Judas Maccabaeus

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