Philharmonia Baroque presents Handel’s biblical epic ‘Saul’

Handel’s “Saul” contains some of the composer’s most vividly dramatic writing. Set to an eminently theatrical libretto by Charles Jennens, the 1738 oratorio — a musical retelling of the story of the biblical king brought low by his jealousy of David, his eventual successor as king of Israel — soars from episodes of gentle lyricism to moments of majestic musical triumph.

It’s a work of considerable impact, one that requires large forces steeped in Baroque musical tradition to present in its entirety.

Under music director Nicholas McGegan, the Bay Area’s own Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is just the ensemble to pull it off, here as the final offering of the early music ensemble’s 2018-19 season.

McGegan, one of the music world’s foremost conductors of Handel’s works, returns to this large-scale masterpiece, leading the orchestra, Philharmonia Chorale and a top-tier ensemble of soloists in four performances.

The cast features countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen in the role of David; Cohen, who will appear as Medoro in the San Francisco Opera’s summer production of Handel’s “Orlando,” is one of the opera world’s fastest-rising stars.

The “Saul” lineup also includes sopranos Sherezade Panthaki (Michal) and Yulia Van Doren (Merab); baritone Daniel Okulitch sings the title role. Singers Aaron Sheehan, Jonathan Smucker and Christian Pursell round out the cast.

Details: 7 p.m. April 6 and 4 p.m. April 7 at First Congregational Church, Berkeley; 7 p.m. April 12 at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; 7:30 p.m. April 13 at First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto; $32-$120; 415-392-4400; www.philharmonia.org.

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