Manchester Symphony Orchestra brings the story of a heroine to life

By Karen Greer
For the Journal Inquirer
March 27, 2014

Soprano Sydney Anderson, left, will sing the title role of Queen Esther. Bass Dean Murphy, above right, sings the role villain, Haman, and tenor Luis Aguilar, bottom right, is Mordecai.

MANCHESTER — On Saturday, March 29, the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale and soloists will bring ancient tribes, a blood-thirsty mob, ardent lovers, and scheming villains to Manchester, all depicted in the music of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Esther.”

An oratorio is a sacred, unstaged drama, said Kevin Mack, music director of the chorale and conductor for this concert. By the time the German-born Handel arrived in England, it had been more than 50 years since the Puritans controlled the English Parliament and banned theatrical productions as “too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity.”

However, English audiences still appreciated entertainment based on biblical tales, which not only avoided the appearance of frivolity, but provided plenty of drama. And, as Mack said, “It played well 2000 years ago, and it plays well today.”

The story of Esther, the brave woman who saves her persecuted people from death, has enduring appeal. In it, King Ahasuerus of Persia is convinced by his treacherous minister, Haman, that the Jews within his realm are a source of trouble and must be destroyed. Neither is aware that Esther, the newly-chosen queen, is herself a Jew.

Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, persuades her to reveal her identity to the king. Captivated by her beauty and courage, the king vows to punish anyone who seeks to harm her, and Haman ends up caught in his own trap.

To this day, these events are celebrated at the Jewish holiday of Purim with boisterous noisemaking and hamantaschen, fruit-filled pastries in the shape of Hainan’s three-cornered hat. There’s also the Purim Spiel, or Purim play, in which the story of Esther is reenacted, often with references to current events.

In fact, Handel originally described “Esther” not as an oratorio, but a “Masque”. At that time, a “Masque” not only included disguises, but allegory, in which ancient tales represented the people and events of the time.

Handel, however, didn’t rely on elaborate scenery or costumes to convey emotions and dramatic tension, but on his music instead. The orchestra almost gallops as Ahasuerus sings “How can I stay, when love invites?” hi “Ye sons of Israel, mourn,” the chorus seems to be sobbing as it repeats the word “mourn.”

Soprano Sydney Anderson will sing the title role of Queen Esther and bass Dean Murphy will sing the role of Haman. Tenor Luis Aguilar will sing the role of Mordecai and tenor Wilson Nichols the role of Ahasuerus. Chorale members R’el Rodriguez and Julia Babcock also have solo roles.

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m., at East Catholic High School, 115 New State Road. Tickets are $18, $15 for seniors and students, and free for those younger than 18 years of age. For more information, call 860-646-0047, email musicsix [at], or visit: