Handel Messiah - too long for comfort?

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Handel Messiah - too long for comfort?

Post by bruce.simonson »

Hi folks,

I'd like to get your general thoughts and best brainstorm ideas on how to present Handel's Messiah.

We're currently in the middle of a year-long run at this work. A community chorus and orchestra (amateur), and two high school choirs, and a youth choir, are working on it.

Those of you who know, and love, this work, are aware of the main problem. Performed uncut, it runs over 2 1/2 hours. Hard on audiences, hard on performers.

I've set this up so we will learn all of the music, including all choruses (yay!), but the issue will be its performance.

Soon, in a couple of weeks, we're going to do "that American thing", and just do Part 1, with (my choice) adding #52 (If God be for us), and ending with the Hallelujah Chorus. A punt, I know, but acceptable, I think, at Christmas.

Next April, however, it's the whole thing. And here's where I'd like to hear your ideas:

I'd like to perform it twice (given all the work involved). Some options, in no particular order:

a) cover to cover, intermission after part 1 (just do it all!)

b) cover to cover, intermissions after part 1 and part 2 (might lose part of the audience after the Hallelujah Chorus)

c) here's a concept: part 1 on Friday, parts 2 and 3 on Saturday, "best of" (abridged, with sing-along) on Sunday afternoon (amounts to a "very long" intermission between parts 1 and 2).

d) cut stuff... hmm, to quote Peter Schaeffer's line from the play (and movie) Amadeus ... "which notes would you like me to remove?"

This is starting to weigh me down. I'd appreciate anyone's thoughts on how to successfully do the whole thing, or at least enough of the whole thing, to do the entire work justice.

War stories, anyone? Experienced any miracles? General advice?

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Re: Handel Messiah - too long for comfort?

Post by vaarky »

I'm impressed with the scope of your project, given that high school and youth choir ages are involved.

Is it accurate to say that you expect your audience to be committed (e.g. parents)? If so, then I would suggest the 3-day approach you mention (with part 1, then parts 2&3, then highlights & sing-along), since you are dealing with kids voices and spreading it out poses less risk of strain or damage.
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Re: Handel Messiah - too long for comfort?

Post by CHGiffen »

I've never been involved in a performance of Messiah (either as audience member, chorister, sing-along singer, or soloist) in which the entire work was performed - it seems that making cuts has a long tradition. Doing the complete work over two days does sound intriguing.

It reminds me of a performance of the St. Matthew Passion which was split afternoon-evening (so that the "intermission" was several hours long - long enough to go eat dinner/supper), but at least it was the entire work that was performed with no cuts. I've had less experience with Handel's Solomon, but the performances I was invovled in (I was the bass aria soloist and understudy to the Solomon role) had several cuts, too.

Interestingly enough, when I was on leave in Heidelberg, Germany many years ago, I attended a performance of the St. John Passion of Bach, and I was surprised to find that a few of the arias and at least one chorale were cut from the performance (previous and subsequent experience with this work has involved the complete work, with nothing cut).

This past spring, our local oratorio society performed parts II and III of Messiah - alas, with several cuts As the bass aria soloist, I didn't miss singing "Why do the nations" which is a real killer, but I wish I could have sung "Thou art gone up on high" - but I did have a lot of fun singing "The trumpet shall sound" with lots of Baroque ornamentation on the da capo (all the way up to a high G in the final cadenza).
Charles H. Giffen
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Early Choral Music? Zephyrus (I sang 12 seasons 1992-2004 with this group).
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Re: Handel Messiah - too long for comfort?

Post by bobnotts »

Just do it all fast :D

I am fortunate to have performed the complete work as part of a BBC Prom in the Royal Albert Hall in 2009. The performance was long but not too long I think, mainly because of the speed at which the conductor took most of the choruses! Though perhaps this is not very practical for a choir involving children. Having said that, you have had/will have a long time to practice. Your concept c) makes sense to me.
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