Michael White’s classical news: Peter Grimes; The Salvation of Israel by Esther; Gary Hoffman

Thursday, 10th March — By Michael White

Gary Hoffman credit William Beaucardet

Gary Hoffman. Image: William Beaucardet

I’M not sure what the term is for a positive, upbeat equivalent of a “perfect storm”, but I know one when I see it. And an example is the Royal Opera’s new Peter Grimes, which opens March 10 and looks like a show where everything comes together to make a production of stand-out significance.

To start with, it’s a great piece. When Britten’s opera premiered in 1945, it had an impact that restored this country’s status as a serious operatic nation (after centuries in limbo). And since then, Grimes has come to rank among the all-time masterworks of lyric theatre, with a narrative – about a social outcast in a claustrophobically small, smug community – that reflected Britten’s own situation as a gay man in post-war England where gay men were hounded and imprisoned. So be in no doubt: this is one of the most powerfully affecting things you will ever see on a stage.

What’s more, the stage director here is Deborah Warner: somebody who pulls no punches when it comes to dark, emotionally lacerating works. The conductor is Mark Elder, who completely “gets” this repertoire. And the cast is dream-quality, with Allan Clayton (a tenor born to sing Grimes) in the title role, and stars like Bryn Terfel and John Tomlinson in supporting ones. You could ask no more. It runs until March 31. www.roh.org.uk

Another big deal this week is the long-delayed UK premiere of something rare and remarkable: a baroque oratorio that was written for an 18th-century Jewish synagogue community and will be sung – by latterday opera singers – in Hebrew. Which is no mean feat. Called The Salvation of Israel by Esther, it’s rare because few Jews were professionally involved in Western art music at the time of its creation, deprived of the usual access routes through church and court. But they did take an interest, especially in Handel’s oratorios on Old Testament subjects. And a case in point was Handel’s Esther, which sets the biblical story of a Jewish princess who saves her people from destruction.

In the freewheeling way of times before copyright, a synagogue in Amsterdam took Handel’s libretto, translated it into Hebrew, and commissioned a less exalted composer called Lidarti to put new music to it. But then the piece was never performed, the manuscripts got lost, and Lidarti’s oratorio disappeared into the void of history – until a recent rediscovery. This UK premiere happens at the hands of HGO, the training company for young singers once known as Hampstead Garden Opera, and plays March 13 at the Free Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb. Details hgo.org.uk

• Something else that effectively disappeared, until a chance rediscovery in the 1930s, is the set of Bach’s six unaccompanied Cello Suites which many listeners these days count among their desert island discs. Extraordinary works in which a single instrument masquerades as several, like a one-man band playing fugues and dances by itself, these Suites are intimate, profound, casting a spell like nothing else in instrumental repertory. So expect to be spellbound when the masterful Canadian cellist Gary Hoffman plays all six during two concerts – one 3pm, one 7.30pm – at Wigmore Hall, March 13. wigmore-hall.org.uk

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