Review: Handel’s Messiah, directed by Claus Guth

Preliminary thoughts:

I never thought I’d say this, but I have *such* a crush on Bejun Mehta, the male alto in Claus Guth’s version of the Messiah.


And this despite my general antipathy towards male altos (stealing my solos when there is perfectly good tenor repertoire available).

But he is really something.

As for the production… well, we’re about a third of the way in, and I’m loving it to bits, in a strange sort of way. We’re paused for now because Andrew has reached his limit on surreal Handel for the time being. It really is very odd. Effective, but strange. The singers (and dancer, and sign language artist) are, on the whole, acting out a story that bears almost no relationship to what they are singing about, though you can generally odd two or three words in a song that made the director go – I know! I’ll make this song about seduction! Or I know! This song is about a christening! Mind you, I am not at all sure that ‘rejoice greatly’ equates to ‘cheer up, it will all be OK’.

Fortunately, the acting is so good that this doesn’t matter so much, once you start viewing the music as purely expressive rather than about the words.

Also, there is a random sign language performer, who is awesome and un-subtitled, adding a special level of confusion to the whole deal. Especially when you consider that there probably are not a lot of deaf people watching opera, really, so the odds that any viewers really know what she is communicating are fairly low.

And flashbacks, which makes everything make far more sense than it did when I saw random video clips in isolation.

Also, the whole bit where the proud parents are getting boy soprano to do his bit at the christening and half singing along with him is absolutely hysterical.

I must admit, though, the awful hotel setting and ugly clothes do nothing for me. And I don’t like the higher of the two sopranos very much. But everything else is so very good it hardly matters.

Final review:

Wow.  So we finished watching the Claus Guth Messiah, and it stays stunning.  If confusing. 

It does make more sense than watching random clips out of sync on YouTube, but it doesn’t actually make sense all the time, despite that.

Andrew didn’t approve of many of the characters.  His sympathies were with the bass and the blonde soprano.  My sympathies ought to have been with those two, but alas, they were instead with the philandering alto and the unfaithful red-haired soprano.  True, alto-guy had no morals and was more than a bit tacky, but I just don’t care because his voice is so perfect and his ornamentaions are to die for.  So I really couldn’t blame the red-haired soprano for being seduced by him, under the circumstances.  That voice could seduce anyone.  (Andrew does not, I suspect, agree about this, but he’s wrong.)  Seriously, he’s not even pretty, in my view, but by about 20 minutes into the performance, he was the most gorgeous person I’d ever seen.  I’m so easy…

Also, red-haired soprano has a better voice than the other soprano, and it turns out that I am basically a moral vacuum when it comes to beautiful voices.  The actual actions of the characters are unimportant.  If you have a pretty voice, you are ipso facto a sympathetic character, and the intention of the composer, librettist, or director, is entirely irrelevant.

(Andrew thinks the alto is sleazy.  But nobody with a voice like that could ever be sleazy, so I’m ignoring him.)

We did, however, agree on the bass, who is quite phenomenal – often when basses sing repertoire with a lot of coloratura, it all blurs into a big wobbly mess of notes, but Florian Boesch sings his arias absolutely perfectly. Every note is distinct, and every line is sung with feeling.

Anyway, alto-crushes aside, this is an amazing performance, and I think I’ll need to watch it a few more times to figure out everything that’s going on.  If you want a more useful review than this, there’s a three-part review starting here, which I think actually gets to the heart of what the composer intended far better than I could, what with being far too busy swooning over the alto to pay attention to nuances.  Well, that, and the writer is better at this sort of critique and thinking than I am.

You can find the entire performance on YouTube here. Really, it’s amazing – watch it if you can.

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