17 May 2007

HANDEL: Jephtha (HWV 70)

Jephtha, oratorio in three parts (HWV 70).

Music composed by G. F. Handel. Libretto by Thomas Morell, after Chapter 11 of The Book of Judges and G. Buchanan's Jephthas sive votum (translation: Jeptha or the Vow) (1554).

First performance: 26 February 1752, Covent Garden Theatre, London

Principal characters:
Jephtha, Judge Of Israel and leader of the army Tenor
Storgè, wife of Jephtha Mezzo-Soprano
Iphis, Jephtha's daughter, betrothed to Hamor Soprano
Hamor, a warrior, betrothed to Iphis Countertenor
Zebul, Jephtha's half-brother, a warrior Bass
Angel Boy Soprano

Setting: Ancient Israel


Part I.

The Israelites, who for their idolatry had been oppressed by the Ammonites for eighteen years, become repentant, and invite Jephtha, a son of Gilead, to be their Captain in the war with their enemies. He accepts the trust, and (after a valedictory interview with his wife), in the ardour of his desire for victory, offers up to God a vow that if he should return home a conqueror, whatsoever cometh forth of his house to meet him, shall be dedicated to the Lord; --which is followed by a general invocation of the mercy and blessing of the Almighty. His wife, in his absence, being troubled with forebodings of some pending evil, her daughter attempts to dispel her gloomy apprehensions. In the following scene, Jephtha, having failed in his attempts to secure peace by a treaty, arouses the army of Israel for the battle.

Part II.

News being brought to Iphis of her father's victory, she resolves to go out to meet him on his return. Zebul celebrates the happiness resulting from the triumph that had been gained, and is joined by Jephtha, who commends the valour of his chiefs, but piously ascribes the glory of the event to God, --whose Omniscience and omnipotence are celebrated by a chorus of the people. Jephtha is then met by his daughter and a train of virgins, who welcome his return with music and dancing. Struck with horror and despair at the sight, he makes known his vow; --his friends expostulate with him; --his daughter resigns her fate to his will--he is torn with anguish and remorse, but resolves on the fulfillment of his vow and the scene is closed by a chorus of the Israelites expressive of the mysterious workings of God's providence, and the uncertainty of human enjoyment.

Part III.

Jephtha prepares to offer up his daughter, who, in humble resignation to what is thought to be the will awe Heaven pathetically bids adieu to all worldly joys and prepares for the sacrifice. The Priests, in fear and awe, appeal to the Almighty for guidance upon which an Angel appears and, forbidding the rites to proceed, declares that Iphis shall be devoted to a life of celibacy and the service of God. Jephtha and his friends successively acknowledge with gratitude the interposition of Providence in sparing the life of Iphis;--she and Hamor, to whom she was betrothed, piously submit themselves to the Divine will;--and her parents and friends, in conclusion, rejoice at the happy termination of their troubles, and the peace which had been secured to their country.

Click here for the complete libretto.