Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Refreshing Take on Handel's "Messiah"

A Christmas Carol.

The Nutcracker.

Handel's "Messiah." 

These titles automatically cue a seasonal association. One of the aforementioned titles, Handel's "Messiah, is seasonal favorite at the Winspear Centre. This year the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performs "Messiah" along with the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers, who will also be joined by past alumni and members of the Richard Eaton Singers to form a solid chorus of 80 singers. In a time where there are a limited amount of available singers and a plentiful amount of musical offerings, this collective approach to performance is mutually beneficial. Even though the Madrigal Singers performed "Messiah" last year, there are new singers learning it for the first time. As well, 35-40 RES singers, some of whom have sung Messiah 20-30 times, provide voices of experience that are united with youthful energy of the Madrigal Singers. 

Director of the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers, Dr. Leonard Ratzlaff, reveals the refreshing interpretation of conductor, Stephen Stubbs. Stubbs is a specialist in early music. He has been introducing different concepts of trilling and bowing during rehearsals and, as a result, he provides a new perspective to consider the much-beloved Messiah work. Stubbs has been working on a light and expressive baroque style in Handel's "Messiah," with a layer of subtlety that audience members will be sure to appreciate. Ratzlaff notes that this is possible because of the piece itself:

"[The Messiah] stands up so well to varying interpretations. It's such a strongly constructed work and every aspect of it is very compelling. It leaves a lot of opportunity for both musical imagination and Stubbs's historically informed approach."

The Messiah is composed of three sections. Part I of the Messiah focuses on the Christmas portion of the story, such as the birth of Christ. The second part documents the Passion story including the Crucifixion and ends with the "Hallelujah" chorus. The triumph of Part III can be heard in such choruses such as "Worthy is the Lamb." Ratzlaff feels it is interesting to note that even though the "Messiah" is associated with Christmas, the debut performance was in April 1742. Thus, the second and third parts actually have a closer association to Easter.

Ratzlaff also describes how four choruses in the "Messiah" are inspired from Handel's earlier Italian duets.

"It points to the fact that there is a musical integrity about Handel's writing and an inspiration behind it that not many people could have done, certainly not in the 24 days that, apparently, it took him to write," he states.

It is a season full of tradition and attending the "Messiah" is a wonderful way to participate. Who knows, the "Messiah" may very well become one of your own seasonal traditions it if isn't already. I hope to see some of you at the performance. I will be the one singing along... in my head.


Tickets available online or by calling the Winspear Centre box office (780-428-1414)


Friday December 7, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Saturday December 8, 2012 at 7:30 PM


Stephen Stubbs, conductor

U of A Madrigal Singers (Leonard Ratzlaff, conductor)
Yannick-Muriel Noah, soprano
Wallis Guinta, mezzo-soprano
Colin Balzer, tenor
Gordon Bintner, baritone


Kathy B. said...

I'm a member of the York Symphony Chorus (York, PA USA)this past weekend we sang the "complete" "Messiah" what a thrilling experience and quite a challenge...all went well to a sold out crowd. Just love the "Messiah" ! :):)
Kathy B.

misssable said...

Hello Kathy,

Thanks for reading! I'm glad we're all enjoying Messiah wherever we are in the world at this point in time. Merry Christmas!

Megalantern said...

Messiah is always a wonderful concert to listen to and to perform in.

For this incarnation I was one of the many basses who sang in both of the peformances.
This was my 2nd full performance of the Messiah. My friend in RES has sang it many more times. He commented that he has sung it over 100 times!
I hope I make it that high.

There is something timeless about Messiah. Singing for the first time or the 100th time is always a thrill and a privilege.

I hope to sing it again next (this?) year as well.

misssable said...

Wow, 100 times!?!? I haven't done many things 100 times let alone sing the Messiah.

Indeed, I believe you shall be singing it again this December with RES.

Thanks for reading my blog!