Handel composed Belshazzar for the concert stage, not the opera house. But as anyone who has encountered his far more celebrated Israel In Egypt knows, the oratorio form did not stifle his dramatic powers—perhaps the opposite. In Belshazzar, an early instance of the composer’s scene painting occurs as the Babylonians, high on ramparts, taunt Cyrus and his army below (“How broad the ditch! How deep it falls!”). Later, Belshazzar utters his great blasphemies and the court trembles in its collective boots at the original writing on the wall. A listener with a lively imagination may feel no need for window-dressing here, but as the director Sebastian Baumgarten must realize, the theatrical potential is tremendous. —M.G.
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