Handel's Messiah

Dates and Venue 8pm Fri, Dec 12 & Sat, Dec 13 | Orpheum Theatre

Bernard Labadie, conductor

Shannon Mercer, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Frederic Antoun, tenor; Joshua Hopkins, bass

Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Cantata Singers, Vancouver Chamber Orchestra

Reviewer Ed Farolan

When Handel composed this piece in the late summer of 1741, he had in mind a choir consisting of 30 singers composed of men and boys. In VCC's programme notes, a performance similar to what Handel intended was the objective of VCC's Christmas season production. However, I felt that, after watching the performance at the Orpheum last Friday, there was a lack of energy in the delivery of this classic.

It may probably be because I was sitting all the way up in the balcony and I couldn't feel the energy, perhaps, stronger if one were sitting in the orchestra; or maybe a piece like this needs at least a hundred, or better still, 200 or more singers to feel the creative energy of this piece.

I'm not saying that Handel was wrong in presuming that 30 people would do the job well. I think what Handel meant was if 30 singers would perform in a chapel like Ryerson which is where most of VCC's concerts take place, then perhaps the vibrancy of the Messiah would be felt more. But putting less than a hundred singers (I believe both the Cantata and the Chamber choirs added up to around 40) at the Orpheum, the effect would be totally different, especially for the ticketholders up in the balcony section.

I also noticed that the singers were not having eye contact with the audience in the balcony. They were singing to the orchestra audience. So I suggest that they look up at the balcony once in a while. A thought also occurred while I was watching the show. If the soloists did not hold their scripts and used their hands to gesture, this would have been more effective. I did notice, particularly in the case of tenor Antoun, that he was gesturing with one hand as he tried to make eye contact with the orchestra audience. If he had both hands free, and had more eye contact with the entire audience, the rapport would have been much better. But I guess in concerts of this nature, protocol dictates that books have to be held while singing.

Countertenor Blaze sounded like a woman; in fact, at first I thought he was a woman singing the alto parts, but as originally intended, Handel wrote these arias for the Italian castrato-alto Guadagni. One last observation: shouldn't this piece be more appropriately scheduled for Easter? From reading the biblical passages that Handel used, the verses reflect the sorrows of the Messiah: "Surely he hath borne our griefs and sorrows..." (Isaiah LIII), or "Thy rebuke hath broken his heart, he is full of heaviness...." (Psalm LXIX) and so on.

Finally, during the climax of the piece, when everybody stands up and listens to the Chorus sing "Hallelujah"--. why not get the audience sing with the choir? I felt that what follows is anti-climactic, and perhaps not necessary. If I were the arranger, I'd end the piece with that high note singing "Hallelujah", and at the same time, get the audience to leave earlier than 10.30 pm! Two and a half hours for a concert is too long to handle.

There have been many arrangements made with this piece, and I think I did come across an arrangement where the score ended with the climactic Hallelujah. In fact, Handel did a lot of changes everytime he conducted this piece, and there are a number of manuscripts with different interpretations of this classic.


© 2008 Ed Farolan