PROM 43: HANDEL’S SOLOMON | London, Royal Albert Hall

Handel’s three-hour oratorio from 1749 is based on the life and times of the Biblical King Solomon. Baroque period ensemble The English Concert, along with the BBC Singers, played to an almost-full Royal Albert Hall (even in spite of the tube strike).

The three-act work is most famous for the instrumental opening the third act: “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”. Conductor Sofi Jeannin took this at amazing speed, giving the baroque oboes (Jasu Moisio, Bethan White) an absolute work-out. Jeannin’s muscular conducting style ensured a fully grounded sound throughout, with clear, energised text from the BBC Singers.

Performing King Solomon was award-laden counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (MBE), in a controlled, slightly cold performance. By contrast, Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta stood out for her wide-eyed, theatrical portrayal of the glamorous Queen of Sheba, as well as the “second harlot” (the one who lies about being the baby’s mother).

As the “first harlot” (the baby’s real mother), soprano Anna Dennis imbued “Can I see my infant gor’d” with such immense emotion, raising the slow, simple material into one of the highlights of the whole concert. Interestingly, as Solomon’s Queen, Dennis’ voice never quite reached these heights. Tenor Benjamin Hulett also made an amazing impression as Zadok, despite being such a small role, especially in the first act’s “Sacred raptures cheer my breast”.

The three-hour runtime (including one interval) requires stamina for both the performers and the audience, but thanks to a world-class cast, ensemble, and conductor, we all remained rapt throughout.

Tickets for all 72 Proms are available from just £7.12 on the BBC Proms 2022 website.

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