That the power of the ruling classes meets its ultimate end in death is shown in Handel’s oratorio Theodora, that librettist Thomas Morell based on The Martyrdom of Theodora and Didymus by Robert Boyle and Corneille’s Théodore vierge et martyre. Theodora and her friend Didymus refuse to abjure their faith and remain strong despite considerable repression and must die as martyrs. George Frideric Handel wrote the oratorio in 1749 and juxtaposes the two worlds of heathen Roman society and the first Christen communities in this introspective work.
In Antioch in around 305 A.D., the Roman governor Valens commands sacrifices to the god Jupiter. The Christian Theodora, who has renounced all worldly concerns, cannot obey this order and is forced into prostitution in the brothel. The officer Didymus, who is in love with Theodora, converts to Christianity and helps her to escape. But Valens shows no pity to the pair and condemns them to death in accordance with Roman law. Handel himself thought a great deal of the oratorio.
It was premiered on 16 May 1750 at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, but only two further performances followed. The number of Londoners who wanted to hear it was extremely disappointing. “The Jews will not come to it because it is a Christian story; and the ladies will not come because it is a virtuous one,” Handel reportedly said to the librettist Morell in explanation of the failure.