This Christmas season has been distinctly marked, for me, by endless busyness and stress. From the swing dance that I co-planned to the college applications that I just cannot get done, I have hardly had a moment to stop and catch my breath, let alone spend time in the pursuit of the warm and fuzzy feelings that accompany Christmastime. So when I walked into Heinz Hall on Friday and saw the beautiful tree in the hallway and the three trees swathed in red cloth on the stage, I was refreshed and delighted. As I settled into my seat I knew that now, finally, I could enjoy Christmas and be reminded, through the form of Handel’s Messiah what the season was all about.
The theater was quite full, and I saw a wider range of ages than usual. I have attended the Messiah every year for the past three years, so as the lights dimmed and the orchestra tuned up I was anticipating it greatly. We arrived a little on the late side, so I had not really had time to read about the vocalists before they entered the stage. To tell the truth, one of my favorite parts of the Messiah is seeing what the female vocalists wear. The orchestra always wears black, and the men of course wear tuxedos, but I am always glad to see a little bit of color light up the stage when the women enter. The dresses this time were, if not quite as colorful as usual, just as elegant. Ms. Lattimore’s brilliant red shawl was particularly striking…I applaud her for wearing it!
actual concert was wonderful. Soprano Lisa Saffer was excellent…as
compared to the other sopranos I’ve seen, she was quite as good. (I’m
afraid I don’t remember enough about them to make a detailed
comparison!) Her voice filled the room with a ringing clarity; I’m
always quite impressed with ‘Rejoice Greatly,’ an aria that showcases
the soprano’s hard-earned talent. Her voice could also be quite gentle
and sweet, such as on her last aria, ‘I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.’
Lattimore’s voice delighted me as well. It was rich and emotional, but
it too was so clear that the power of it only added to the beauty of
her voice. As I listened to her I sometimes felt that she was lulling
me into a false assumption that, while her voice was pretty, there was
nothing more to it. Yet every time I came to that conclusion she
trilled her voice into notes that jolted and surprised me, and then
came back down with a twinkle in her eye. Her manner was quite
whimsical on the stage—I enjoyed watching her facial expressions, even
when she was not singing, and I also enjoyed her evident pleasure in
wearing her bright red shawl.
was not quite as delighted with the men. The tenor, Philippe Castagner,
was good (and a great deal younger than I expected), but he did not
fill the room as I have heard previous tenors. Perhaps it was just a
flaw in his stage presence, but every so often I almost had the feeling
that he had made a mistake, simply because he looked unsure or worried.
But on the whole he was great, and I enjoyed his soft, sweet voice. The
bass, Sanford Sylvan, while having a beautiful quality to his voice,
also disappointed me just the slightest because—and perhaps this is
just a personal preference—I feel that basses should fill the room with
their powerful, all-encompassing vibrato. Mr. Sylvan had a good voice,
and it was rich and deep, but I felt that it sometimes lacked a
little—for lack of a better word—‘oomph’.
together the concert delighted me as much as it ever has. I found
myself wishing desperately, as the end came closer, that it would go on
longer. I wanted the soloists to keep singing their meditative,
dignified pieces—I wanted the choir to continue their wonderful
harmonies. I was not ready, as the last ‘amen’ died away, to let the
symphony stop, but as I walked out I did feel ready to face the
Christmas season again. In a season that, this year, has been
characterized by notes stuck to my mirror and lists carried in my
pocket reminding me of all I have to do, it was wonderful to get away
for a few hours and immerse myself in the true message of Christmas, as
told so elegantly by George Frideric Handel.
the same is true for other Pittsburghers; on our way out the door my
sister and I spotted Troy Polamalu and his wife. ‘So Steelers enjoy the
fine arts as well,’ I smiled at my sister, and then like a true fan I
went up and asked for his autograph.