The Politics and Power of Theodora with Lindy Hume

We’re incredibly excited to welcome back Lindy Hume to the Pinchgut stage after directing our tremendously successful production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride in 2014. Here Lindy shares her powerful vision for our December production of Theodora.

 We have approached this telling of Theodora as both a poetic interpretation of a true past world and a foreshadowing of a very possible and chilling future world.

It’s not hard for us, in 2016, to imagine the kind of society in which the action takes place, a place where religious and philosophical freedoms are suppressed and the human rights of minorities are ravaged by the dominant culture. These societies have existed all over the world from ancient times to our own and the tendrils of cultural myopia are creeping ever closer. For spectacular triumphalism, boorishness and vilification of other races and religions, and for his celebration of wealth above all else, Donald Trump is Valens’ soul mate. Trump may or may not be President of the United States by the time this production is on stage, but his spirit and shadow have influenced our approach to the staging and characters in Handel’s Theodora.

Religious freedom, absolute power, human rights and the death penalty are some of the great themes of Theodora - and these must be explored. The political and philosophical biosphere of Antioch is populated with five characters placed on the power spectrum from the highest (Valens the dictator and his followers) to the lowest (Irene, the leader of an oppressed minority, in this case the Christians). In between are Theodora and the two Presidential guards Didymus and Septimius whose moral conflict drives the action. Their thoughts are expressed through some of the most ravishing music ever written.

There are no “goodies” and “baddies” in this society. Strength or weakness depends on your perspective. With so much wonderful choral writing to explore it’s inevitable that this production will focus on the individual and collective psychology of these two opposing groups: the Christians and Heathens. I love the idea that the entire Cantillation chorus play both and alternate between the two before our eyes, allowing us to contemplate their journey from one mindset to the other. The Theodora chorus, as autonomous individuals and as a group, reminds us that people are people. No matter how strong our convictions, each of us is flawed, we can be led to acts of folly or protest or greatness, make mistakes and be uncertain of our convictions. What’s truly in peoples’ hearts is unknowable.

It’s impossible to stage Theodora without paying huge respect to the exquisite Peter Sellars 1996 production for Glyndebourne, which I was lucky enough to see live. A revelation for so many artists and audiences, even twenty years later it’s impossible not to be inspired by the depth of Sellars’ conviction of the human potency of the Theodora experience. “It's a huge question: when we take people's lives as a society; when and how we justify killing”.

The last word is from Pope Francis, describing perfectly how Theodora resonates with me:

“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance, and respect for the dignity and rights of others.