The oratorio was written five years after Messiah in 1746 and was premiered at the Covent Garden Theatre in London the following year.
Philharmonia Baroque's performance will feature barihunk William Berger as Simon, who sings the aria “Arm, arm, ye brave!” He'll be joined by the sensational tenor Nicholas Phan, soprano Robin Johannsen, mezzo-soprano Sara Couden and baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan conducting.
Gerald Finley sings “Arm, arm, ye brave!”:
Handel's oratorio had a far more secular inspiration than the biblical text might suggest, as it was composed in commemoration of the British defeat of Charles Stuart’s Jacobite forces at the battle of Culloden in April 1746.
The events depicted in the oratorio are from the period 170–160 BC when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire which undertook to destroy the Jewish religion. Being ordered to worship Zeus, many Jews obeyed under the threat of persecution; however, some did not. One who defied was the elderly priest Mattathias who killed a fellow Jew who was about to offer a pagan sacrifice. After tearing down a pagan altar, Mattathias retreated to the hills and gathered others who were willing to fight for their faith.
The oratorio will be performed on December 5 in San Francisco, December 6 in Palo Alot and on December 7 and 8 in Berkeley. Tickets are available online.