Pop-tinged 'Messiah' is a big mistake

December 09, 1991|By J. D. Considine

PERHAPS the only thing Americans seem to like better than basking in glories of culture is "popularizing" the great works, so that more people can appreciate them. Hence, if Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" is a good children's story, the Disney cartoon, being more accessible than the printed page, must be better. If Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" is a good read, Broadway's megabuck "Les Mis" is a greater spectacle.

And if George Friedrich Handel's baroque oratorio "The Messiah" is a musical masterpiece, then it follows that "The Young Messiah," which played to a packed house at the Baltimore Arena on Saturday, is also improvement.

Except that it isn't. In fact, "The Young Messiah" is an even greater travesty than most modernizations. That this rock-flavored rethink trivializes Handel's score by fleshing it out with guitar solos and disco beats is bad enough; that it assumes people today are too uncultured to appreciate any music that doesn't have a backbeat is outright insulting.

Even if you accepted its upon-this-rock-and-roll premise, the performance posed problems. Although Larnelle Harris had no trouble meeting the demands of "Comfort Ye," and Sandi Patti's light-operatic soprano certainly suited "Behold the Lamb of God," those two singers were unfortunately in the minority. As for the others, it was hard to decide which was worse: The way the Bill Gaither Vocal Band's gospel harmonies ran roughshod over Handel's score? The way Michael English's strangulated tenor reached awkwardly after high notes? Or was it the way Carman treated "And the Trumpet Shall Sound" as if it were a Blood, Sweat & Tears tune?

Forgive them, George. They know not what they do.

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