Invited to stage Handel’s oratorio, Claus Guth has chosen to seize the bull by the horns and question the very notion of fatality that governs the work: “Must it really be this way?”
The myth of Jephtha deals with the question of oaths and sacrifice. How do these themes speak to us today?
How do you interpret his gesture?
We have chosen to narrate part of the story's antecedents as of the overture, in order to show where Jephtha was coming from and the burdens he had to carry during his life. What do we know of the reasons that prompted Jephtha to make this vow? The Bible tells us nothing on this subject … After undergoing so many setbacks, after all those years spent isolated from the world, in utter solitude, he finds himself in a state of euphoria, of excessive pride, of hubris. The fact that he has been sought out, that he begins to feel that reparation might be possible, excites a sort of megalomania in him. He believes himself to be in a position to negotiate with God, offering to sacrifice a human life in exchange for his help in securing a victory.
How have you compensated for the Bible’s omissions?
Handel’s oratorio deviates from the myth…
The end of the Bible story is brutal and shocking and shows Iphis sacrificed by
her father. When the work was first performed, such an ending was unthinkable
for an oratorio: so an angel appears, saving Iphis’s life before the sacrifice
can take place. This raises questions for us about the reasons for this
deliverance. The appearance of the angel is without doubt the librettist’s most
interesting modification of the biblical narrative. We
have taken this angel very seriously and completely literally, but we also
asked ourselves the following question: in what state of delirium must one be
to see a vision of an angel? What is the psychological state of those about to
witness the appearance of an angel or the performing of a miracle?