Last updated: Oct. 20, 1999
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Georg Friedrich Händel

THEODORA
(1750)

An Oratorio

Words by Thomas Morell

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Theodora, a Christian of noble birth (soprano)

Didymus, a Roman Officer, converted & in love with Theodora (alto)

Septimius, his friend (tenor)

Valens, President of Antioch (bass)

Irene, a Christian (mezzo-soprano)

Messenger (tenor)


Chorus of Christians
Chorus of Heathens


 

ACT ONE

 

1. Overture

Scene 1

Valens, Didymus, Septimius, Chorus of Heathens.

2. Recitative

Valens
'Tis Dioclesian's natal day.
Proclaim throughout the bounds of Antioch
A feast, and solemn sacrifice to Jove.
Whoso disdains to join the sacred rites,
Shall feel our wrath in chastisement, or death.
And this, Septimius, take you in charge.

3. Air

Valens
Go, my faithful soldier, go:
Let the fragrant incense rise,
To Jove, great ruler of the skies.

4. Chorus of Heathens

And draw a blessing down,
On his imperial crown,
Who rules the world below.

5. Recitative

Didymus
Vouchsafe, dread Sir, a gracious ear
To my request. Let not thy sentence doom
To racks and flames, all, all, whose scrup'lous minds
Will not permit them, or, to bend the knee
To gods they know not, or, in wanton mood,
To celebrate the day with Roman rites.

Valens
Art thou a Roman, and yet dar'st defend
A sect, rebellious to the gods and Rome?

Didymus
Many there are in Antioch, who disdain
An idol-offering, yet are friends to Csar.

Valens
It cannot be. They are not Csar's friends,
Who own not Csar's gods. I'll hear no more.

6. Air

Valens
Racks, gibbets, sword and fire,
Shall speak my vengeful ire,
Against the stubborn knee.
Nor gushing tears,
Nor ardent pray'rs,
Shall shake our firm decree.
Racks, gibbets. . . da capo

Exit Valens.

7. Chorus of Heathens

For ever thus stands fix'd the doom,
Of rebels to the gods and Rome,
While sweeter than the trumpet's sound,
Their groans and cries are heard around.

Scene 2

8. Recitative

Didymus
Most cruel edict! Sure, thy generous soul,
Septimius, abhors the dreadful task
Of persecution. Ought we not to leave
The free-born mind of man still ever free?
Since vain is the attempt to force belief
With the severest instrument of death?

9. Air

Didymus
The raptur'd soul defies the sword,
Secure of virtue's claim,
And trusting Heav'n's unerring word,
Enjoys the circling flame.
No engine can a tyrant find,
To storm the truth-supported mind.
The raptur'd soul. . . da capo

10. Recitative

Septimius
I know thy virtues, and ask not thy faith;
Enjoy it as you will, my Didymus.
Though not a Christian, for I worship still
The gods my fathers worship'd, yet I own,
Something within declares for acts of mercy.
But Antioch's President must be obey'd;
Such is the Roman discipline, while we
Can only pity, whom we dare not spare.

11. Air

Septimius
Descend, kind pity, heav'nly guest,
Descend, and fill each human breast
With sympathizing woe.
That liberty, and peace of mind,
May sweetly harmonize mankind,
And bless the world below.
Descend. . . da capo

Scene 3

Theodora, with the Christians.

12. Recitative

Theodora
Though hard, my friends, yet wholesome are the truths,
Taught in affliction's school, whence the pure soul
Rises refin'd, and soars above the world.

13. Air

Theodora
Fond, flatt'ring world, adieu!
Thy gaily-smiling pow'r,
Empty treasures,
Fleeting pIeasures,
Ne'er shall tempt or charm me more.
Faith inviting,
Hope delighting,
Nobler joys we now pursue.

14. Recitative

Irene
O bright example of all goodness!
How easy seems affliction's heavy load,
While thus instructed, and companion'd thus,
As 'twere with Heav'n conversing, we look down
On the vain pomp of proud prosperity.

15. Air

Irene
Bane of virtue, nurse of passions,
Soother of vile inclinations,
Such is, prosperity, thy name.
True happiness is only found,
Where grace and truth and love abound,
And pure religion feeds the flame.
Bane of virtue. . . da capo

16. Chorus of Christians

Come, mighty Father, mighty Lord,
With love our souls inspire,
While grace and truth flow from thy word,
And feed the holy fire.

Scene 4

Enter Messenger.

17. Recitative

Messenger
Fly, fly, my brethren, heathen rage pursues us swift.
Arm'd with the terrors of insulting death.

Irene
Ah! Whither should we fly, or fly from whom?
The Lord is still the same, today, for ever,
And his protection here, and everywhere.
Though gath'ring round our destin'd heads
The storm now thickens, and looks big with fate,
Still shall thy servants wait on Thee, O Lord,
And in thy saving mercy put their trust.

18. Air

Irene
As with rosy steps the morn,
Advancing, drives the shades of night,
So from virtuous toil well-borne,
Raise Thou our hopes of endless light.
Triumphant saviour, Lord of day,
Thou art the life, the light, the way!
As with rosy steps. . . da capo

19. Chorus of Christians

All pow'r in Heav'n above or earth beneath
Belongs to Thee alone,
Thou Everlasting One,
Mighty to save in perils, storm and death.

Scene 5

Enter Septimius.

20. Recitative

Septimius
Mistaken wretches! Why thus blind to fate,
Do ye in private oratories dare
Oppose the President's decree, and scorn
With native rites to celebrate the day
Sacred to Csar and protecting Jove?

21. Air

Septimius
Dread the fruits of Christian folly,
And this stubborn melancholy
Fond of life and liberty.
Chains and dungeons ye are wooing,
And the storm of death pursuing;
Rebels to the known decree.
Dread the fruits. . . da capo

22. Recitative

Theodora
Deluded mortal! Call it not rebellion,
That thus we persevere in spirit and truth,
To worship God: it is his dread command,
His whom we cannot, dare not, disobey,
Though death be our reward.

Septimius
Death is not yet thy doom:
But worse than death to such a virtuous mind,
Which Didymus wants eloquence to praise.
Lady, these guards are order'd to convey you
To the vile place, a prostitute, to whom
Valens thinks proper to devote your charms.

23. Accompagnato

Theodora
Oh, worse than death indeed! Lead me, ye guards,
Lead me, or to the rack, or to the flames,
I'll thank your gracious mercy.

24. Air

Theodora
Angels, ever bright and fair,
Take, oh take me to your care;
Speed to your own courts my flight,
Clad in robes of virgin white.
Angels. . . da capo

Exit Theodora with Septimius.

Scene 6

Enter Didymus.

25. Recitative

Didymus
Unhappy, happy crew! Why stand ye thus,
Wild with amazement? Say, where is my love,
My kind instructor in fair virtue's path,
My life, my Theodora? Has the tyrant
Seiz'd on his guiltless prey?

Irene
Alas! She's gone.
Too late thou cam'st to save, if in thy pow'r
To save, the fairest, noblest, best of women.
A Roman soldier led her trembling hence
To the vile place, where Venus keeps her court.
Yet on his brow reluctance seem'd to sit,
And helpless pity bade us wait our doom.

26. Air

Didymus
Kind Heav'n, if virtue be thy care,
With courage fire me,
Or art inspire me,
To free the captive fair.
On the wings of the wind will I fly,
With this princess to live, or this Christian to die.
Kind Heav'n. . . da capo

Exit Didymus.

Scene 7

27. Recitative

Irene
O love, how great thy pow'r! But greater still,
When virtue prompts the steady mind to prove
Its native strength in deeds of highest honour.

28. Chorus of Christians

Go, gen'rous, pious youth,
May all the pow'rs above
Reward thy virtuous love,
Thy constancy and truth,
With Theodora's charms,
Free from these dire alarms;
Or crown you with the blest,
In glory, peace and rest.

 

ACT TWO

 

Scene 1

Valens, and Chorus of Heathens.

29. Recitative

Valens
Ye men of Antioch, with solemn pomp,
Renew the grateful sacrifice to Jove;
And while your songs ascend the vaulted skies,
Pour on the smoking altars floods of wine,
In honour of the smiling deities,
Fair Flora, and the Cyprian queen.

30. Chorus of Heathens

Queen of summer, queen of love
And thou, cloud-compelling Jove,
Grant a long and happy reign,
To great Csar, king of men.

31. Air

Valens
Wide spread his name,
And make his glory
Of endless fame
The lasting story.

32. Recitative

Valens
Return, Septimius, to the stubborn maid,
And learn her final resolution.
If ere the sun with prone career has reach'd
The western isles, she deigns an offering
To the great gods, who subjected the world
To conqu'ring Rome, she shall be free; if not,
The meanest of my guards with lustful joy
Shall triumph o'er her boasted chastity.

33. Chorus of Heathens

Venus laughing from the skies,
Will applaud her votaries.
While seizing the treasure
We revel in pleasure,
Revenge sweet love supplies.

Scene 2

Theodora, in her Place of Confinement.

34. Symphony

35. Recitative

Theodora
O thou bright sun! How sweet thy rays
To health, and liberty! But here, alas,
They swell the agonizing thought of shame,
And pierce my soul with sorrows yet unknown.

36. Air

Theodora
With darkness deep, as is my woe,
Hide me, ye shades of night;
Your thickest veil around me throw,
Conceal'd from human sight.
Or come thou, death, thy victim save,
Kindly embosom'd in the grave.

37. Symphony

38. Recitative

Theodora
But why art thou disquieted, my soul?
Hark! Heav'n invites thee in sweet rapt'rous strains,
To join the ever-singing, ever-loving choir
Of saints and angels in the courts above.

39. Air

Theodora
Oh, that I on wings could rise,
Swiftly sailing through the skies,
As skims the silver dove!
That I might rest,
For ever blest,
With harmony and love.
Oh, that I on wings. . . da capo

Scene 3

Didymus and Septimius.

40. Recitative

Didymus
Long have I known thy friendly social soul,
Septimius, oft experienc'd in the camp
And perilous scenes of war, when side by side
We fought, and brav'd the dangers of the field,
Dependant on each other's arm. With freedom then,
I will disclose my mind. I am a Christian,
And she, who by Heaven's influential grace
With pure religious sentiments inspir'd
My soul, with virtuous love inflam'd my heart,
Ev'n she, who, shame to all humanity,
Is now condemn'd to public lust.

Septimius
No more!
The shame reflects too much upon thy friend,
The mean, though duteous instrument of pow'r,
Knowing her virtues only, not thy love.

41. Air

Septimius
Though the honours that Flora and Venus receive
From the Romans, this Christian refuses to give,
Yet nor Venus, nor Flora, delight in the woe
That disfigures their fairest resemblance below.

42. Recitative

Didymus
Oh, save her then, or give me pow'r to save,
By free admission to th'emprison'd maid!

Septimius
My guards, not less asham'd of their vile office,
Will second your intent, and pleasure me.

Didymus
I will reward them with a bounteous heart,
And you, my friend, with all that Heav'n can give
To the sincerity of Pray'r.

43. Air

Didymus
Deeds of kindness to display,
Pity suing,
Mercy wooing,
Who the call can disobey?
But the opportune redress
Of virtuous beauty in distress,
Earth will praise and Heav'n repay.
Deeds of kindness. . . da capo

Scene 4

Irene, with the Christians.

44. Recitative

Irene
The clouds begin to veil the hemisphere,
And heavily bring on the night, the last
Perhaps to us. Oh, that it were the last
To Theodora, ere she fall a prey
To unexampled lust and cruelty.

45. Air

Irene
Defend her, Heav'n! Let angels spread
Their viewless tents around her bed.
Keep her from vile assaults secure,
Still ever calm, and ever pure.
Defend her. . . da capo

Scene 5

Theodora's Place of Confinement.
Didymus at a distance, the vizor of his helmet clos'd.

46. Recitative

Didymus
Or lull'd with grief, or rapt her soul to Heav'n
In innocence of thought, entranc'd she lies;
Her beauty shining still, like Cynthia,
Rising in clouded majesty.

47. Air

Didymus (approaching her)
Sweet rose and lily, flow'ry form,
Take me your faithful guard,
To shield you from bleak wind and storm
A smile be my reward.

48. Recitative

Theodora (starting)
Oh, save me, Heav'n, in this my perilous hour!

Didymus
Start not, much injur'd princess, I come not
As one, this place might give you cause to dread;
But your deliverer, sent by just Heav'n,
To save the world's unrivaIl'd ornament
Of virtue, faith, and every Christian grace;
And that dear ornament to Theodora,
Her angel-purity. If you vouchsafe,
But to change habit with your Didymus (discovering himself).

Theodora
Excellent youth!
I know thy courage, virtue and thy love;
And never can consent they should destroy
Their author. This becomes not Theodora,
But the blind enemies of truth. Oh no,
It must not be! Yet Didymus can give
A boon, will make me happy, nor himself
Endanger.

Didymus
How, or what? My soul with transport
Listens to the request.

49. Air

Theodora
The pilgrim's home, the sick man's health,
The captive's ransom, poor man's wealth,
From thee I would receive.
These, and a thousand treasures more,
That gentle death has now in store,
Thy hand and sword can give.

50. Accompagnato

Didymus
Forbid it, Heav'n!
Shall I destroy the life I came to save?
Shall I in Theodora's blood embrue
My guilty hands, and give her death, who taught
Me first to live? Or say, what right have I
To take, what just reflection bids confess
Not at your own disposal? Think it too,
No less a crime, if, thus inflexible,
Your safety you refuse. Time forbids more,
Strait then resolve to gain your liberty,
Preserve your honour, and secure your life.

Theodora
Ah! What is liberty or life to me,
That Didymus must purchase with his own?

Didymus
Fear not for me; the pow' r that led me hither
Will guard me hence. If not, His will be done!

Theodora
Yes, kind deliverer, I will trust that pow'r
To hear my pray'r for thee, so lately heard
For Theodora; who had ne'er exposed
Her friend to shun a danger that concern'd
Only her Life. Farewell, thou generous youth!

Didymus
Farewell, thou mirror of the virgin state!

51. Duet

Theodora
To thee, thou glorious son of worth,
Be life and safety giv'n.

Didymus
To thee, whose virtues suit thy birth,
Be every blessing giv'n.

Both
I hope again to meet on earth,
But sure shall meet in Heav'n.

Scene 6

Irene, with the Christians.

52. Recitative

Irene
'Tis night, but night's sweet blessing is denied
To grief like ours. How can we think of sleep,
While Theodora wakes to misery,
And threat'ning death hangs hovering o'er our heads?
Be pray'r our refuge, pray'r to Him, who rais'd,
And still can raise, the dead to life and joy.

53. Chorus of Christians

He saw the lovely youth, death's early prey,
Alas, too early snatch'd away!
He heard his mother's fun'ral cries:
"Rise, youth", He said. The youth begins to rise.
Lowly the matron bow'd, and bore away the prize.

 

ACT THREE

 

Scene 1

Irene, with the Christians.

54. Air

Irene
Lord, to Thee each night and day,
Strong in hope, we sing and pray.
Though convulsive rocks the ground,
And thy thunders roll around,
Still to Thee, each night and day,
We sing and pray.
Lord, to Thee. . . da capo

Scene 2

Enter Theodora, in the habit of Didymus.

55. Recitative

Irene
But see, the good, the virtuous Didymus!
Wakeful as Philomel, with throbbing heart,
He comes to join with us in pray'r for Theodora.

Theodora (discovering herself)
No, Heav'n has heard your pray'rs for Theodora.
Behold her safe! Oh, that as free and safe
Were Didymus, my kind deliverer!
But let this habit speak the rest.

56. Air

Theodora
When sunk in anguish and despair,
To Heav'n I cried, Heav'n heard my pray'r,
And bade a tender father's care
The gen'rous youth employ.
The gen'rous youth obey'd and came,
All wrapt in love's divinest flame,
To save a wretched virgin's fame,
And turn her grief to joy.

57. Solo and Chorus

Christians
Blest be the hand, and blest the pow'r,
That in this dark and dang'rous hour,
Sav'd thee from cruel strife.

Theodora and Christians
Lord, favour still the kind intent,
And bless thy gracious instrument
With liberty and life.

Scene 3

Enter Messenger.

58. Recitative

Messenger
Undaunted in the court stands Didymus,
Virtuously proud of rescued innocence.
But vain to save the gen'rous hero's life
Are all entreaties, ev'n from Romans vain.
And, high-enrag'd, the President protests,
Should he regain the fugitive, no more
To try her with the fear of infamy,
But with the terrors of a cruel death.

Irene
Ah, Theodora, whence this sudden change,
From grief's pale looks, to looks of redd'ning joy?

Theodora
O my Irene, Heav'n is kind,
And Valens too is kind, to give me pow'r
To execute in turn my gratitude,
While safe my honour. Stay me not, dear friend,
Only assist me with a proper dress,
That I may ransom the too gen'rous youth.

59. Duet

Irene
Whither, Princess, do you fly,
Sure to suffer, sure to die?

Theodora
No, no, Irene, no,
To life and joy I go.

Irene
Vain Attempt, oh stay, oh stay!

Theodora
Duty calls, I must obey.

Exit Theodora.

60. Recitative

Irene
She's gone, disdaining liberty and life,
And ev'ry honour this frail life can give.
Devotion bids aspire to nobler things,
To boundless love, and joys ineffable:
And such her expectation from kind Heav'n.

61. Air

Irene
New scenes of joy come crowding on
While sorrow fleets away,
Like mists before the rising sun
That gives a glorious day.

Scene 4

Valens, Didymus, Septimius, and Chorus of Heathens.

62. Recitative

Valens
Is it a Christian virtue then,
To rescue, from the hands of justice, one
Condemn'd by my authority?

Didymus
Such my religion, it condemns all crimes,
None more than disobedience to just pow'r.
And had your sentence doom'd her, but to death,
I then might have deplor'd your cruelty,
And not attempted to defeat it. Yet,
I own no crime, unless it be a crime
To've hindered you from perpetrating that
Which would have made you odious to mankind,
At least the fairest half.

Valens
Aye, aye, fond man
It was the charms of beauty, not of virtue,
That tempted you to save her. Take him hence,
And lead him to repentance, or to death.

Scene 5

Enter Theodora.

Theodora
Be that my doom. You may inflict it here,
With legal justice, there 'tis cruelty.
If blood your angry laws require, behold,
The principal is come to pay the debt:
And welcome sure to Romans the exchange,
A warlike hero for an helpless maid.

Septimius
Dwells there such virtuous courage in the sex?
Preserve them, O ye gods, preserve them both.
Ye Romans, join in the request, if e'er
Lucretia's memory was dear to you,
Or this your leader's valour and renown.

63. Air

Septimius
From virtue springs each gen'rous deed
That claims our grateful pray'r.
Let justice for the hero plead,
And pity save the fair.
From virtue springs. . . da capo

64. Air

Valens
Cease, ye slaves, your fruitless pray'r!
The pow'rs below
No pity know,
For the brave, or for the fair.

65. Recitative

Didymus (to Septimius)
'Tis kind, my friends, but kinder still
If for this daughter of Antiochus,
In mind, as noble as her birth, your pray'rs
Prevail, that Didymus alone shall die.
(to Theodora)
Had I as many lives as virtues thou,
Freely for thee I would resign them all.

Theodora
Oppose not, Didymus, my just desires;
For know, that 'twas dishonour I declin'd,
Not death, most welcome now, if Didymus
Were safe, whose only crime was my escape.

66. Chorus of Heathens

How strange their ends,
And yet how glorious,
Where each contends,
To fall victorious,
Where virtue its own innocence denies,
And for the vanquish'd the glad victor dies!

67. Recitative

Didymus (to Valens)
On me your frowns, your utmost rage exert,
On me, your prisoner in chains.

Theodora
These chains
Are due to me, and death to me alone.

Valens
Are ye then judges for yourselves?
Not so our laws are to be trifled with.
If both plead guilty, 'tis but equity
That both should suffer.

68. Air

Valens
Ye ministers of justice, lead them hence,
I cannot, will not bear such insolence.
And as our gods they honour, or despise,
Fall they their supplicants, or sacrifice.

Exit Valens.

Scene 6

69. Recitative

Didymus
And must such beauty suffer?

Theodora
Such useful valour be destroy'd?

Septimius
Destroy'd,
Alas, by an unhappy constancy!

Didymus
Yet deem us not unhappy, gentle friend,
Nor rash; for life we neither hate, nor scorn,
But think it a cheap purchase for the prize
Reserv'd in Heav'n for purity and faith.

70. Air and Duet

Didymus
Streams of pleasure ever flowing,
Fruits ambrosial ever growing,
Golden thrones,
Starry crowns,
Are the triumphs of the blest.
When from life's dull labour free,
Clad with immortality,
They enjoy a lasting rest.

Theodora and Didymus
Thither let our hearts aspire:
Objects pure of pure desire,
Still increasing,
Ever pleasing,
Wake the song, and tune the lyre
Of the blissful holy choir.

Exeunt

Scene 7

Irene, with the Christians.

71. Recitative

Irene
Ere this, their doom is past and they are gone
To prove that love is stronger far than death.

72. Chorus of Christians

O love divine, thou source of fame,
Of glory, and all joy!
Let equal fire our souls inflame,
And equal zeal employ,
That we the glorious spring may know,
Whose streams appear'd so bright below.

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