The Messiah Project

Hello and welcome to the PSO’s blog chronicling the staging process of Handel’s Messiah. I am Mark Addleman, Audience Engagement Assistant, student of music, and PSO concertgoer. I am incredibly excited to see this rare staging of the Messiah on Dec. 2 – 4. This kind of theatrical performance does not happen often – only twice in the past 26 years: in London (2009) and prior to that in Berlin (1985)!

Soprano Laura Heimes and female chorus members
 On Sunday, Nov. 13 I got a behind the scenes look at the beginning phase of this theatrical staging of the Messiah. This particular rehearsal was spent working on a late scene in Act 1 – though the costumes are not yet part of the rehearsals, I saw some makeshift props to help the spirit of the staging emerge: cardboard boxes as gifts, music stands raised as high as possible for a Christmas tree, and a cart and piano bench for a party serving table.

Two men volunteer to raise a child to put the star on top of the Christmas tree (in this case, no star and a music stand)

Stage Director Sam Helfrich worked with choir members and soloists alike to physically show them what he has envisioned.At one point, soprano Laura Heimes interacts with the female members of the choir and all of them hastily throw down their aprons! Three of the soloists (mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann, tenor William Ferguson, and bass Philip Cutlip) serve punch to the party-going choir members – it will be non-alcoholic during the performances! 

Sam Helfrich demonstrating how to throw down an apron.
Bass Philip Cutlip, mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann, and tenor William Ferguson
 I was surprised that there was very little music being rehearsed, the focus being on the staging. Though the music was still heard to ensure the timing of the movements is just right. PSO Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong conducted the soloists who were marking (quietly singing so they don’t waste their voices) to piano accompaniment by Karen Roethlisberger-Verm (No relation to Big Ben).

PSO Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong and Stage Director Sam Helfrich

 Based on the hour of rehearsal that I observed, the innovative interpretation and settings of Handel’s Messiah should not be missed. This was only the sixth rehearsal and in a rehearsal room at Heinz Hall, not on stage. There are many more rehearsals planned for the soloists, choir, and directors. The week leading up to the performances will be the first time this collaboration will be seen or heard on the stage of Heinz Hall. Check back in to the PSO blog for more updates as the clock ticks closer to showtime.


2 thoughts on “The Messiah Project”

  • I just read (on this website) details about the “American story” being dramatized in this staging. Years ago, I saw a documentary about Handel’s writing of the oratorio and how seriously he took the very specifically Christian message, choosing the Biblical texts he set to music, etc. And it was very moving when we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin to imagine the first performance of the _Messiah_ there in the 1740s. It’s been a powerful vehicle for telling the Christ story ever since that first performance. I’m imagining the “American story” will be told visually and that the words of the choruses and arias will not be changed from Handel’s original choice of texts–is that correct?

  • The words of the choruses and arias will NOT be changed from Handel’s original choice of text. This staging does not alter the music, only enhances it and opens Handel’s “Messiah” to a more personal connection and interpretation.

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