20 May 2007

HANDEL: Saul (HWV 53)

Saul, oratorio in three acts (HWV 53).

Music composed by G. F. Handel. Libretto by Charles Jennens, based on 1 Samuel.

First Performance: 16 January 1739, King’s/Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London

Principal Characters:
Merab, Saul’s daughterSoprano
Michal, Saul’s daughterSoprano
Jonathan, Saul’s sonTenor
High PriestTenor
Witch of EndorTenor
Abner, Captain of Saul’s armyTenor

Setting: Ancient Israel


David returns victorious from his combat with Goliath. He is welcomed by Saul, king of Israel, accompanied by his son Jonathan, his two daughters Michal and Merab, and Abner, his commander-in-chief. Saul asks David to remain with him and to marry Merab. But she scorns the low-born hero, whereas Michal is in love with him. Jonathan offers David his friendship. The people sing David’s praises, placing him above Saul, who is fired with jealousy and fears for his crown. He commands Jonathan to kill his friend, but in vain: Jonathan reminds his father of David’s acts of bravery in freeing his people from Goliath. Saul swears he will not harm David, and offers him Michal’s hand — before sending him off to battle in the hope that he will be slain by the Philistines.

When David comes back, having triumphed once more, Saul tries to kill him with his javelin. David trusts in the Lord's protection, but flees in the face of Michal’s entreaties. Merab acknowledges her brother-in-law’s qualities and expresses her fears for his life.

Saul seeks to murder David, and reproaches Jonathan for taking his side. He goes to consult a witch, who calls up the ghost of Samuel. The latter prophesies that Israel will be defeated by the Philistines, and Saul and his sons killed.

An Amalekite tells David of the dreadful rout, and the death of Saul and Jonathan. David and Israel mourn their loss, then the people extol David, whom they choose to lead them.

Click here for the complete libretto.