> Opera and Oratorio
Tobias and the Angel
Lucas, Brathwaite, Nicholls; Ebrahim, Abrahams, Laing, West, Clarke; Choruses and Ensemble of the Young Vic, Abell. Text. Chandos CHAN 10606
The Book of Tobias is part of the "Apocrypha," a group of five books accepted as canonical in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian versions of the Bible, but not in the Jewish or Protestant versions. Tobias is one of the most engaging, folk-tale-like and enjoyable books in this domain; its clear drama would seem to be ideal material for opera and oratorio composers. Yet, other than Haydn's oratorio Il Ritorno di Tobia, there seem to have been no significant musical adaptations of the Tobias story until Jonathan Dove's Tobias and the Angel, here offered in its first commercial recording, with a distinguished cast of soloists, choral singers and instrumentalists from the Young Vic, conducted by David Charles Abell.
Completed in 1999, Tobias and the Angel is the fifth of Jonathan Dove's now more than ten operas. It is written very much in a style that would allow for community performances and has, in fact, most commonly been performed in churches. Dove has written accessible music based on recurring melodic ideas, subtly varied to meet the needs of the drama. The wonder here is that he has done so in a way that avoids sounding repetitive: his melodies retain a freshness and vitality that continuously enhance the drama. Dove's kaleidoscopic approach to the orchestration and skillful employment of klezmer-like dance music further add to the opera's success. Dove is ably assisted by David Lan's dynamic libretto. As a dramatic work for small forces and a community setting, Tobias and the Angel is a delightful work, a worthy heir to Benjamin Britten's three "Church Parables" of the mid-1960s.
The opera begins and ends with Tobit, father of Tobias, writing his book. Tobit is strongly portrayed by Omar Ebrahim, whose sonorous baritone voice captures the essence of this virtuous elder figure. As his son, Tobias, tenor Darren Abrahams gives a spirited performance. He is particularly effective in the lively number "I spent my money on a barrel of stout" and when he is smitten with love for his cousin Sara, here convincingly sung by mezzo-soprano Karina Lucas. Tenor Kevin West does a fine job of conveying the moral ambiguity and besieged self-pity of Sara's father, Raguel.
The primary role in this opera is the archangel Raphael, here beautifully characterized by countertenor James Laing, who sings his lines with exactly the right degree of ethereal beauty to bring out the magic of this role. His rendition of the climactic moment when Raphael reveals his true identity, "It is better to give alms than lay up gold," is wondrously conveyed. Hyacinth Nicholls and Maureen Braithwaite give fine performances as Tobias's and Sara's mothers, as does Rodney Clarke in the brief role of the demon Ashmodeus. Abell offers vital musical direction and does a fine job of pacing the drama as a whole.