The December 22nd showing of Handel’s Messiah left me with more questions than answers.
Abnormally, I thoroughly researched the past of the composer and the work. I felt obliged to give myself a proper education before taking in one of the most played classical works of the holiday season. The way Handel composed Messiah at the time he did was indeed miraculous. I set the stage at Heinz Hall as a concert goer of the 18th century. I wanted to know what it was like to attend the symphony at the time that classical music was the featured genre of the world.
I was positively stunned when the string musicians took the stage. The singers in the Mendelssohn choir outnumbered them by a margian of almost 2 to 1. I read in the program that the oboe and bassoon parts had been augmented to reflect the integrity of an 18th century piece, and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it wasn’t left the way that Handel intended it to be. The entire evening, at least in my mind, was compared to what his work could have been unabridged. I could not bring myself to the level of nostalgia that I had hoped for.
From my perspective, the four featured singers just didn’t have enough behind them to convincingly get the meaning of Handel’s work across. Margaret Lattimore gave a stunning performance with her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice. She had clear, powerful, and emotional delivery in the midst of what was otherwise a bit lifeless. I was not overly impressed with anyone else.
As hard as conductor Betsy Burleigh tried to rally the musicians, they didn’t seem to respond. On my last trip to Heinz Hall, both the musicians and the maestro were alive with attentiveness to the music in front of them. Truthfully, I did not see that Friday night. I saw the conductor feverishly working to rouse dynamics from a yawn, and it was disappointing. Near the end of Part I her baton went flying across the stage, landing on the leg of a violin player who didn’t so much as flinch. She waited for what seemed like an eternity for recognition from the audience after one of the best movements of the night, and they too did not respond. I can only imagine how frustrating all of this would be for her, especially when she could have won a gold medal for podium usage and baton passing!
I was looking forward to the "Hallelujah" chorus and was even further disappointed that the choir didn’t "let loose" with their interpretation. Friday night was a classic case of "What you see is what you get". I believe that this could have been so much more than what it was. Regardless of my frustration, I didn’t regret taking in the work of Handel and I still had a great evening at the symphony. There’s always next year…