Toby brings Handel to centre stage

TOBIAS Cole is not only one of Canberra’s finest musicians, with a reputation extending overseas, but he is also one of our greatest musical enthusiasts, as his newest project shows.

Tobias Cole - photo by Peter Hislop

Tobias Cole – photo by Peter Hislop

Mindful in part of the financial burdens that his big Handel productions of recent years have imposed upon the Canberra Choral Society, which he directs, Cole has joined with chorister and music publicist Kelly Corner to form a new opera company called Handel in the Theatre.

The idea, as the name suggests, is to find a new way of presenting the glorious music of Handel to a broader public in a theatrical context.

By this Cole doesn’t necessarily mean a fully staged production with massive sets and costumes, but a mix of orchestra, choral singing and drama by principals, such as we have seen in recent years with productions like “Alexander Balus” and “Hercules”, but this time enhanced with set design by Imogen Keen, lighting design by Cynthia Jolley-Rogers and choreography by Belynda Buck.

Back in 2001, when Cole was singing in a traditional performance of Handel’s “Saul”, he was struck by how dramatic the music and story were, and how much more powerful they could be for audiences. Staging Handel’s English language works became one of the driving passions of his career and he now sees Handel as composer and storyteller focusing on the eternal themes of power, politics, love, sacrifice, duty and madness.

The fledgling company has already carried out a successful crowdfunding exercise and raised 140 per cent of its target – $14,025, now matched dollar for dollar by Creative Partnerships Australia through their MATCH program. With additional funding from the ACT Government, and the Australia Council, he can now go ahead with his planned October production of “The Vow,” his own adaptation of Handel’s “Jephtha”.

You might think you don’t know the story, but you probably do. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, feigning madness says to Polonius, “O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!” in reference to his daughter.

Briefly, Jephtha leader of the Israelites, swears that he will sacrifice whatever or whoever comes out from the doors of his house to meet him if he returns victorious from a battle with the enemy – it is his daughter, and tragedy ensues.

While Cole and Corner grapple with the contingencies of the production, which will feature the talents of Handel expert and conductor, Brett Weymark, tenor Andrew Goodwin singing the lead role, soprano Jacqueline Porter, mezzosoprano Christina Wilson and bass baritone Christopher Richardson, Cole is taking no chances that the audience will be left in ignorance, so is launching a series of “Handel Overtures,” Saturday afternoon discussions between Cole and this writer, followed by a glass of wine, the details are below.

And the Playhouse is filling up fast for the actual production.

“Handel Overtures”, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre – Handel Overture 1: Why I love Handel (5.30pm, August 27). Handel Overture 2: From page to stage (5.30pm, September 3). Handel Overture 3: Inside the singer’s head (5.30pm, September 10). Bookings to

“The Vow”, at the Canberra Playhouse, October 8 & 9. Bookings to



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