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.
O Death, Where is Thy Sting, with drunken chair-stacking.
And, since this is what the post was originally about, Rejoice Greatly.
Really, what more could you want from an oratorio?