Haydn & Handel – Armida & Theodora, Pinchgut Season 2016

Valda Wilson
Rinaldo & Armida

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) Rinaldo and Armida, 1629, oil on canvas, Dulwich Picture Gallery

For 2016 the Sydney based Pinchgut Opera has announced its first subscriber season, presenting two operas Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress and Theodora: Innocence is No Defence, both promising special event experiences and the best seat options for those who take up the offer of purchasing a subscription in advance for 2016.

The Pinchgut are tapping into a huge reservoir of work composed prior to 1750, the end of the Baroque musical period (1600-1750), or those works that are special, which did not see many performances despite being deemed of musical excellence.

The first work Armida will be presented 22 June – 28 June 2016 under the artistic direction of Antony Walker who will conduct the splendid Orchestra of the Antipodes.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Armida, a love story between a ‘heathen sorceress and Rinaldo a Christian Knightis his last opera composed and produced for his benefactor Prince Paul Esterházy.

Haydn 1

Ludwig Guttenbrunn, portrait of Franz Joseph Haydn, c1791-2, depicting Haydn c1770

The Austrian-born son of a farmer-wheelwright, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was only eight years of age went to Vienna as choirboy at St Stephen’s. When his voice broke he became a teacher and accompanist in order to survive, working for two aristocratic patrons throughout the 1750s,

Prince Paul Esterházy in 1761 engaged him as vice-Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt, Hungary and he remained in the Esterházy household for 30 years. In 1766 Nikolaus built the palace of Eszterháza, on the south side of the Neusiedlersee, which took its inspiration from the chateau at Versailles.

Haydn lived in a delightful summerhouse where his compositional art benefited and flourished because of his relative seclusion, which meant he was ‘forced to become original’.

Soprano Rachelle Durkin will feature as Armida, with tenor Leif Aruhn-Solén as Rinaldo, soprano Janet Todd as Zelmira, baritone Alexander Knight as Idreno and tenor Jacob Lawrence, Ubaldo.

Pure of tone and renowned for her flexibility Rachelle Durkin is New York based. An Australian born coloratura soprano, she sings regularly with The Metropolitan Opera.

She has been singing internationally since winning three major vocal competitions in Australia in 2000 and her extensive repertoire today includes works from Baroque to modernity.


Haydn Concert Hall, originally the large multi-purpose festival and banquet room, Esterhazy Palace,

Armida was first performed in the Prince’s private opera house (destroyed by fire 1779) in the palace of Eszterháza and repeated some fifty four times 1784 – 1788. A ‘dramma eroica’ (heroic drama) Haydn who had a talent for ‘orchestral subtlety’, believed it was perhaps his finest work. By and large the music of this time favoured simplicity over complexity and had a taste for structural clarity, an emphasis that worked its way into the world of music towards a style in which melody was preferred

During this period clarity was associated with the music of friends, designed for chambers where connoisseurs abounded.

The second work Theodora is an oratorio (a musical composition for orchestra, choir and soloists mostly based on a religious text) under the artistic direction of Erin Helyard, playing 30 November – 4 December 2016 at City Recital Hall, Angel Place Sydney.

HandelA ‘tragic tale of love, faith and virtue’, Theodora was composed by German born London based George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759).

Today recognised as being musically exceptional it enjoyed its first performance in 1750 at Covent Garden and is considered perhaps one of Handel’s most sophisticated works, renowned for its clarity despite him having entirely lost the sight in his left eye by this stage.

Set to an English libretto by Thomas Morell and in three acts, Theodora was presented in the middle of the eighteenth century when changes in the economic order and social structure of society were bringing into favour a new style in architecture, literature, and the performing arts.

The least performed of Handel’s opera’s Theodora had a theme centred around the persecution and martyrdom of a Christian saint. Handel was presenting a ‘moralising’ message in the rapidly changing so-called age of ‘enlightenment’, one that may have been one a little too hard for many to hear.

Theodora  features ‘achingly beautiful arias and choruses’ and is set during the 4th century at Antioch, the so-called ‘cradle of Christianity’.

TheodoraThis was an ancient Greek city whose remains are sited near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.

Soprano Valda Wilson will sing the title role of Theodora, Mezzo soprano Caitlin Hulcup is Irene, countertenor Christopher Lowrey is Didymus, tenor Ed Lyon is Septimus and bass-baritone Andrew Collis, Valens.

Valda Wilson trained at the Sydney Conservatorium, winning an Opera Foundation scholarship to train in London. She was the featured soloist at Westminster Abbey chosen by conductor Richard Bonynge to offer a tribute to his wife, the late Dame Joan Sutherland at a memorial service.

Described as a ‘warm and soulful soprano’ Valda is currenly performing with the German neo-Baroque Oldenburg State Theatre in Lower Saxony for 2014 – 2016 season

Much had changed by 1784 when the living treasure Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 28 years of age and Franz Joseph Haydn was considered one of the leading, and most revered composers of his age.

Handel and his work would have become only a memory, but for his famous Messiah and in 1784 25 years after his death, three commemorative concerts were held at Westminster Abbey in his honour.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

Pinchgut Opera, 2016



Rachelle Durkin

Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress

22, 24, 28 June at 7pm, 26 June at 5pm
City Recital Hall, Angel Place Sydney

Valda Wilson

Valda Wilson

Theodora: Innocence is No Defence

30 Nov, 1, 3 & 6 Dec at 7pm, 4 Dec at 5pm
City Recital Hall, Angel Place Sydney


Ouverture to Armida by Franz Joseph Haydn

As with Rosy Steps the Morn – Theodora






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