Opera Scotland

Saul

Music

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

Text

Charles Jennens (1700-1773).

Source

Biblical (First & Second Books of Samuel)

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (King's Theatre), 16 January 1739.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc.

 

Background

Saul was one of the most successful and frequently performed of Handel's oratorios during his lifetime. Since his death, the ever-popular Messiah has continued to be performed everywhere. While most of them disappeared until quite recently. Saul is one of the few oratorios to have maintained an occasional place in the repertoire, and the Dead March from the final act has always been a popular orchestral extract on its own. It was produced at a time when Handel had just composed some of his greatest Italian operas, but to them it added the large-scale dramatic effects for the chorus, which Italian opera of the period rarely contained. The fashion for opera was also nearing its end. The librettist Jennens later produced the text for the Moderato section, supplementing the Miltonian L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, as well as the oratorios Messiah and Belshazzar.

 

Main Characters

David, a young shepherd, conqueror of Goliath (counter-tenor)

Saul, King of Israel (bass-baritone)

Jonathan, son of Saul (tenor)

Merab, daughter of Saul (soprano)

Michal, daughter of Saul (soprano)

Abner, Saul's commander-in-chief (tenor)

Witch of Endor (tenor)

Ghost of Samuel (bass)

Amalekite (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The oratorio opens immediately after David's killing of Goliath, the Philistines' champion. Saul greets him, with Jonathan, Merab, Michal and Abner. Saul offer's Merab to him in marriage, but she detests the idea of marrying a mere shepherd. Michal does love him, however, and Jonathan also offers David his friendship. When the people acclaim David, Saul is driven mad and, jealous of David's growing power, tries to kill him with his javelin. He misses and orders Jonathan to kill David instead. His horrified son refuses, and reminds Saul of the debt owed to David. The High Priest and the people pray for David's safety.

Jonathan assures David of his friendship and resolves to pacify Saul. Calm once more, the king now allows the marriage of David and Michal to take place. David contrasts the lovely and sincere Michal with her untrustworthy father. Saul orders him to come to the Court to attend a feast. Merab, now converted to David's cause, prays for her brother Jonathan to protect David. As the principals gather for the feast, Saul reveals his continuing jealousy and intention to eliminate the hero. Jonathan explains that David has gone to visit his father. Saul is again driven to fury, and this time throws his javelin at Jonathan. Again the blow misses, but the people are further appalled at the developing signs of Saul's madness.

Saul is distressed at his estrangement from David and from his children. In disguise, he goes to consult the Witch of Endor, ashamed at his dependence on someone whose activities he had banned. She explains that the King has  forbidden the conjuring up of spirits. Saul assures her of her safety and asks for a vision of Samuel. The Prophet criticizes Saul for his misconduct of affairs and foretells that Saul and his sons will die in battle against the Philistines. A messenger, the Amalekite, brings news to David of the massacre - Jonathan was killed, and Saul having attempted suicide is finished off by the Amalekite, whom David immediately has executed. After the Dead March the final elegy follows. David is grief-stricken at the death of his 'brother' Jonathan, and the people of Israel also mourn their loss before acclaiming David as their new king.

The Cast

Abner
 Saul's Commander-in-Chief
Amalekite
 a messenger
David
 a young shepherd, conqueror of Goliath
Doeg
 an officer of Saul
Ghost of Samuel
 a vision
Jonathan
 son of Saul
Merab
 daughter of Saul
Michal
 daughter of Saul
Saul
 King of Israel
Witch of Endor
 a Sorceress

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