Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 12:03 am | Fair 71º

 
 
 
 

Gerald Carpenter: Master Chorale Performs Handel’s ‘Samson’

The Santa Barbara Master Chorale (Steven R. Hodson, artistic director) will present a concert version of George Frideric Handel's Samson (1743) at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 14, and 3 p.m., Sunday, April 15, in the First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St.

Soloists, chorus, and orchestra will be conducted by Maestro Hodson.

I stipulated that this is a "concert version" because, although Samson is officially an oratorio — "a large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices, typically a narrative on a religious theme, performed without the use of costumes, scenery, or action" (Wikipedia) — it has occasionally (and successfully) been fully staged as an opera.

Handel did not invent the oratorio, per se, but he has a good claim to having invented the English oratorio, almost by accident.

The German-born Handel had been living in London since 1712. Starting in 1705, he had established himself as a composer of Italian operas, which were wildly popular and were the foundation of his immortality.

(If you have an opportunity to witness today a live performance of any of his 42 operas, it is likely to be 1724's Giulio Cesare.)

His English residence, however, prompted a search for English texts to set as libretti. He came across an English translation of Jean Racine's biblical drama, Esther (1689), and quickly wrote the music for it, calling the work a "masque," instead of an opera.

When he sought to have the work performed in London (it had been written for private performance when Handel was in the employ of the Duke of Chandos), he ran afoul of the Bishop of London, who forbade the production of any stage show based on a text from the Bible.

So, Handel tweaked a few passages and took out the stage directions and, voilà, the English oratorio was born: Esther (1718).

Handel wrote Samson right after The Messiah, and it was almost as popular. Musicologists generally consider the later work superior to its predecessor.

If its popularity did not last, it is probably because it is hard to sell a tale of Samson and Delilah as a Christmas show.
 
No one ever wrote better for the human voice than Handel, and Samson is gloriously listenable. It is a rare treat to hear it performed live, and by such a sterling ensemble.
 
Tickets to Samson are $22 general admission, $20 for seniors or disabled, $12 for college students with ID, and free for children K-12. Tickets are available at Chaucer's Books, at the door, or online at www.eventbrite.com or www.sbmasterchorale.org.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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