There’s something special about the escapism provided by a good movie. We can find ourselves rapidly drawn into the high emotion and intrigue of an encounter, especially when we feel there has been an injustice. Plymouth Philharmonic Choir are staging their own blockbuster on Sunday 4 December at 7.30pm in Plymouth Guildhall with a performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Based on fact, both ancient and more recent, the plot and back story are as enthralling as anything that you will see on the big screen.
Despite the great success of his music, Handel was facing his own cost of living crisis. The expense of staging operas, together with waning popularity for this style of music in England, led him to experiment with a new genre, oratorio. Composing one of the world’s most famous oratorios in 1741, Messiah, the rest, as they say, is history and in the case of Judas Maccabaeus, in more ways than one.
Leader of the revolt
In England, with feelings of patriotism running high, Handel was inspired to write Judas Maccabaeus in honour of the victorious Duke of Cumberland who had crushed the Jacobite uprising, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden. In writing the text for the oratorio, Thomas Morell was making a comparison between the success of the Duke and a second-century BCE victory over the brutal Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He was one of the Graeco-Syrian invaders of Judaea who outlawed Judaism and its practices on pain of death. The desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem was such a bitter blow that it sparked a rebellion led by the priest Mattathias. Upon the priest’s death his son, Judas Maccabaeus, became the leader of the revolt.
Handel’s music depicts the changing moods of the Jewish people as their fortunes vary from dejection to jubilation. With victory achieved the chorus sing two of the most well-known pieces ‘See, the conqu’ring hero comes’ and ‘Sing unto God’ before an ending where peace is finally restored.
The choir are delighted to be welcoming four first-class soloists: Natalie Montakhab (Soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (Mezzo-Soprano), Greg Tassell (Tenor) and James Cleverton (Baritone). Natalie is a former finalist of the Handel Singing Competition, a major annual international singing event.