Handel’s Messiah: Rejoice Greatly!

As anyone who has looked at the front page of this blog recently will know, I’m singing the soprano solos for a Sing Your Own Messiah production in a couple of weeks.  This is the first time I’ve sung a ‘set’ of solos for an oratorio or opera or anything really.  It’s also the first time I will have sung in a production of the Messiah, so I’m pretty excited about it on a lot of levels.

Messiah fanciers will notice that this is not the usual version of Rejoice Greatly – the 4/4 version (sung here by Kathleen Battle) is much more frequently sung.  But how delightful is this bouncy version?  I love it, though the temptation to bounce myself must be resisted…

The thing I find most fascinating about the Messiah, though, is that Handel couldn’t seem to stop fiddling with it.  He swapped solos between parts, turned solos into duets and duets into solos, took bits out, put things in, gave the soprano parts to boys or to adult women or to some of each, and performed it with very small groups and very large ones.  The version I’m singing in gives the alto more solos than anyone else – but the first published version I saw had just the two big alto solos and gave everything else to soprano or bass.

Anyway, this is the version I will be singing, though I am, alas, unlikely to be quite as glorious as Sylvia McNair, who manages to make the whole thing sound effortless – I love the sweetness and lightness of her voice, and I admire her ability to get through those stunningly long phrases without taking a breath (I have not yet attained this level of mastery though, frustratingly, one time in five I can do that very long bit of coloratura near the start on one effortless breath – and the other four times, I can’t even get close.  Why is this?  It’s driving me bonkers! Ah well, I have two more weeks…).

Incidentally, it’s not actually possible for me to speak or write about Handel’s Messiah without mentioning the truly insane version directed and staged by Claus Guth.  Guth apparently woke up one morning and thought to himself “You know what the Messiah really needs?  Interpretative dance, that’s what!  And maybe a plot about someone who committed suicide.  And those orchestral bits are just crying out for a sign language interpreter…”.

It is, quite seriously, the weirdest version of the Messiah that you are ever likely to encounter.  And yet, the singing is impeccable (especially the swoon-worthy male alto, Bejun Mehta, whose ornamentation is just spectacular.  Currently, the whole thing – all 2 1/2 hours – is on YouTube, which can’t possibly last.  But just for fun, here are a few highlights:

Symphony, with sign language interpreter.

For Behold, Darkness shall cover the earth, with ghostly interpretive dance.

He shall feed his flocks, with seduction  (and How Beautiful Are Thy Feet, with foot fetish).

O Death, Where is Thy Sting, with drunken chair-stacking.

He Was Despised (Part 1), with amazing ornamentation (Part 2) (you can see why I have a crush on this alto)

And, since this is what the post was originally about, Rejoice Greatly.

Really, what more could you want from an oratorio?


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0 comments for “Handel’s Messiah: Rejoice Greatly!

  1. filkferengi
    November 25, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Her voice is quite lovely. Also lovely were the Spanish subtitles, which one doesn’t see very often. I could almost sing along.

    Speaking of odd musical artifacts, there’s a group called The Lower Lights that do arrangements of older hymns on period instruments, lots of which often have a folk or bluegrass tinge. The odd thing is, whenever I listen to them, I find myself singing along–in Spanish! My mission was 25 years ago; apparently, like Horatio, there’re more hymns bouncing around in mi cabeza than I knew.

    Thanks for all the cool blogs you do! I hope the multiple concerts go well & are lots of fun.

    • November 25, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Isn’t she gorgeous? I’m sort of aspiring to sing like that, but my voice type these days is quite different!

      And how cool that you know the old hymns in Spanish!

  2. filkferengi
    November 25, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Speaking of more musical silliness & rejoicing greatly, you may like these. Here they are, as the Bujold fan recommended them:

    What happens when a Serious Orchestra not only has to play “I Will Survive”–but starts playing with it?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI-PloJWbSk (www.igudesmanandjoo.com) The pizzicato at 1:24 is priceless. These folks are having WAY too much fun!

    What happens when you start messing around with Mozart’s “Turkish March”? A Major instead of A Minor? Throw in a Bb, with sprinkles? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Psazw6xsMFs&feature=related

    • November 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Oh, those are brilliant! Thank you so much for reminding me of that duo’s existence (I think you’ve sent me things of theirs before, and they are very, very clever). I see material for a future Friday…

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