Where do you start with Saul? The energy? My God! The joyous madness of it all? The singing? The acting? If, as some people say, opera is an art form in need of a makeover, Barrie Kosky’s staging of Handel’s blockbuster biblical oratorio is the full facial with tummy tuck.

Saulcompany and chorus. Photos © Tony Lewis

From the first glimpse of the washed-up head of Goliath, emerging from the gloom with its baleful, beady eye, to the chorus’s elated eruption of How excellent thy name, O Lord, the Australian director, who now runs Berlin’s anarchic Komische Oper, uses all of his skill and theatrical daring to dazzle, delight, divert and dissect.

Handel’s 1738 English language masterpiece was built to prop up a faltering Italian opera season and conceived on the grandest scale imaginable. Orchestral effects included a carillon (a keyboard built to imitate chiming bells), a harp to accompany the ‘shepherd’ David, a chamber organ that the composer played himself (here finessed by Musical Director Erin Helyard, a man with more than a few surprises up his lacy sleeve), three trombones for the famous Dead March, and larger than...