Theodora (Handel)

Theodora (Handel)

Theodora (Handel)

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Theodora (HWV 68) is an oratorio in three acts by George Frideric Handel, set to an English libretto by Thomas Morell. The oratorio concerns the Christian martyr Theodora and her Christian-converted Roman lover, Didymus.

Context, Analysis, and Performance History

Handel wrote Theodora during his last period of composition, his Indian summer. He was sixty-four years old when he began working on it in June 1749. He had written the oratorios Solomon and Susanna the previous year. Theodora would be his second-to-last oratorio.

Theodora differs from the former two oratorios because it is a tragedy, ending in the death of the heroine and her converted lover. The music is much more direct than the earlier works, transcending the mediocrity of the libretto (which was true for several of Handel's works) so that the characters and the drama are well-defined.

Thomas Morell (1703–1784) had worked with Handel before on several oratorios. He and Handel were good friends; the composer left the librettist 200 pounds in his will. Morell's source for the libretto was The Martyrdom of Theodora and of Didymus (1687) by Robert Boyle, the scientist. He also borrowed from Corneille's Théodore, Vierge et Martyre. Morell arguably improved on Boyle, eliminating the moralising messages and creating a better structure.

Handel finished the oratorio on 31 July 1749, and its premiere was on 16 March 1750. Pityingly, Theodora was a failure and only played three times. There are at least two explanations...
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