Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A modern operatic take on the Messiah

A NEW take on Handel’s Messiah with a cast of 12 opera singers comes to Henley as part of a national tour at the end of April

Review by Lesley Potter

A NEW take on Handel’s Messiah with a cast of 12 opera singers comes to Henley as part of a national tour at the end of April.

The production, staged by an innovative young opera company, has been receiving standing ovations all over the country.

Musical diretor Stephen Hose said: “It’s not 200 people standing there with their books. It’s very visual. There are 12 singers, and they sing everything from memory. It’s staged action, and although the tunes are very familiar, the music becomes very clear.”

The Merry Opera Company was set up in 2010, and has staged a number of popular operas, including their own productions of La Traviata and The Magic Flute, both translated by Kit Hesketh Harvey.

Then last year Stephen got together with director John Ramster with the intention of creating a completely new, modern and “fun” take on Handel’s original oratorio.

“I think the original Handel score is absolutely brilliant,” he said. “It’s so contrapuntal that it’s interesting doing it like this. Because there are only 12 voices you get to hear all the different lines better than with a big choir. This is a completely different experience, because it’s theatrical.”

Although the music is true to the original score — and accompanied by an organist — the action has a modern take.

Handel’s Messiah relays the story of Jesus Christ as told in the King James Bible, with the addition of psalms and some excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer.

The story of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, his miracles, his death and his resurrection is told through song. But in this production, the 12 singers are all in modern dress, and at the beginning of rehearsals each of them was given a modern-day character to play, with a back story.The adaptation shows each character coming in to the church, one by one, and singing their part through the voice of their particular character. There was a certain amount of improvisation — none of the singers knew about the others’ characters.

Stephen said: “At the end of each show people normally get to their feet and we get standing ovations. I think a lot of people in the audience are Christians, so they find it quite moving, and others just think it is good.”

Stephen, who used to teach piano at Shiplake College, trained at the Royal College of Music and has had a long and varied career.

His most notable job was playing piano alongside Gareth Malone on the TV series The Choir, when a large group of people from the South Oxhey community in Hertfordshire got together to sing.

He said: “It was a lot of fun. Gareth genuinely helped a lot of people who wanted to sing. They did make enormous strides because he is so motivational.

“He’s the antithesis of the school music teacher who says, ‘Shut up, you’re flat!’ He gives people confidence.”

lMessiah by the Merry Opera Company comes to the Christ Church Centre on Saturday, April 27. Tickets are £15 (£12 restricted view). A wine bar is open at the venue from 7pm. Box office (01491) 577733 or at the door.

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