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Jephtha, Welsh National Opera @ Birmingham Hippodrome

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Opera: A pact with God that goes wrong
Handel may be more renowned for his Messiah masterpiece, but this later lesser-known score is stamped with the composer's signature of gratifying, atmospheric choral work.

Performed by the Welsh National Opera, Jephtha is overflowing with angst, self torture and an overbearing sense of doom.
Welsh National Opera, Jephtha, Birmingham Hippodrome
Scene from Jephtha by the Welsh National Opera. Credit Bill Cooper

Biblical character

The story follows biblical character Jephtha as he leads a battle for the Israelites against the Ammonites, but makes a pact with God to sacrifice the first living thing that he sees on his return if he can be victorious.

And this being opera, that deal is obviously doomed to end in tears.

Welsh National Opera, Jephtha, Birmingham Hippodrome, Handel
Making a pact. WNO credit Bill Cooper

Stylish and distinctive
Although slow to get going and absent of the famous arias found in more household name operas, the build up of tension in Jephtha and the moments when the chorus sings together are a real highlight.

The contrast between Jephtha's torment and the brighter scenes featuring the joy of his young in-love daughter, Iphis, also work well side by side.

Transferred in costume and set to a war-torn 1930s, this is a stylish and distinctive production of the oratorio.

Handel, Welsh National Opera, Jephtha, Birmingham Hippodrome
Jephtha has stylish costumes. WNO credit Bill Cooper

Handel's eye trouble

Handel experienced much trouble with his eyes while worked on this score in 1751, a decade after the success of Messiah. This period was when he first started experiencing weakness in his left eye, which would soon lead to blindness and limit his career. In fact, when Jephtha was first performed in 1752, Handel had already lost the sight in one eye.

Lasting three hours, with two intervals, Jephtha may be lesser known, but it is a memorable oratorio that more seasoned opera fans should enjoy.

The Welsh National Opera production continues at Liverpool Empire Theatre on November 20 and at Bristol Hippodrome on November 27.

For more information visit:

Welsh National Opera, Jephtha
Angst and tension in Jephtha. WNO credit Bill Cooper
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Why? Dramatic night of opera
When: November 7
Phone: 029 2063 5030
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome, Liverpool Empire Theatre and Bristol Hippodrome
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