Columbia’s Pro Cantare presented “Handel: Messiah” on Sunday, December 8, 2019, at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School with Frances Motyca Dawson, Conductor. This wonderful production is one of the best ways to start the Holiday Season.
Handel’s oratorio was written in 1741 and scripted by Charles Jennens. It was written to be performed in Dublin as a benefit concert for several charities. Handel took no money for it. It was performed without compensation many times in Handel’s lifetime. Handel, who was born in Germany, but later became a naturalized English citizen, wrote the music to be performed in the language of his adopted country.
Although there are parts written for different operatic voices, this is not an opera. The Messiah, or Christ, is the central focus of the oratorio. Its structure reflects opera format at that time and is divided into three sections. Part I covers the prophecies by Isiah and others and then goes to the annunciation of the shepherds. Part II revolves around the Passion and contains the famous, “Hallelujah” chorus. Finally, Part III deals with the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The different pieces are noted in the program by the first lines of the scripture from which the song was derived which is why they are not capitalized after the first word.
Pro Cantare has been performing Handel’s Messiah since 1984. It has always been received by audiences enthusiastically and Sunday’s performance was no exception. The four featured singers were Amy Van Roekel, Soprano, Leah Kay Serr, Mezzo, Charles Reid, Tenor, and this year for the first time, Rob McGinniss, Baritone. The four are all acclaimed performers in opera. They perform all over the United States and internationally. Both Serr and McGinniss have a local link as they studied at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Highlights of the performance were “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” (Reid), “And suddenly there was an angel” (Van Roekel), “He was despised” (Serr) and “The trumpet shall sound” (McGinniss).
This wonderful production is one of the best ways to start the Holiday Season.
The Chorus, however, is the focal point of this oratorio, and Pro Cantare’s voices brought out the beauty of Handel’s masterpiece, most noticeably in “And the glory of the Lord”, “Glory to God” toward the end of Part One, and the famous “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of Part Two. It is traditional since Handel’s time to stand for the “Hallelujah” chorus, perhaps because it is so moving.
The Festival Orchestra was made up of all fine musicians. However, their accompaniment is mostly a string section and a positif organ (Henry Lowe). Trumpets and tympani were added for the “Hallelujah” and stayed on until the end. Susan Rider’s trumpeting was magnificent in “The trumpet shall sound.” This year the orchestra included Ronald Mutchnik, Celeste Blase, David Yarbrough, David Rajnes, Brenda Anna and Leslie Silverfine on Violin I, Kimberly McCollum, Dana Goode, Carolyn Kessler and Paula Deutsch on Violin II, Susan Dapkunas and Cindy Carmichael on Viola, Kathy Birch and Amy Stennett on Cello, Lloyd McKinney on Bass, James Dickey and Katherine Ceasar-Spall on Oboe, Joe Tersaro on Bassoon, Rider and Robert Birch on Trumpet and Greg MacDonald on Tympani.
Dawson led both the Festival Orchestra and the singers. “Handel: Messiah” continued success, and the high regard for Pro Cantare performances, are due to her extraordinary talent and leadership.
If you missed, this performance, Pro Cantare will perform it again next Holiday Season. You can also catch the Chorus for “A Christmas Noël,” Dec. 15th, “Celebrating Women Composers”, March 8th and “Music Traditions Along the Danube,” May 2nd.
Pro Cantare’s “Handel: Messiah” is always an exciting event. Columbians are fortunate that we have this program every year.
Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with an Intermission.
Disclaimer: Susan Brall has a friendship with a member of Pro Cantare. However, this did not influence her review.
For further information for other performances contact Pro Cantare.