`Messiah' graces holidays

Hallelujah: For many, the Christmas season begins with attending a performance of Georg Frederick Handel's supreme oratorio.


Howard Live

November 29, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In America, the Thanksgiving holiday marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season.

But for music lovers, the Yuletide spirit doesn't manifest itself until the strains of Messiah, Georg Frederick Handel's oratorio supreme, begin wafting into the December air.

"He is the master of us all," said Franz Joseph Haydn on hearing the celestial "Hallelujah Chorus" for the first time.

"Handel understands effect better than any of us," echoed an effusive Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. "When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt."

Those thunderbolts will be out in force at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Jim Rouse Theatre when Columbia Pro Cantare performs the Christmas portion of Messiah, plus selections from Parts II and III. The chorus will be accompanied by orchestra and organ under the direction of Frances Motyca Dawson.

This year's performance features soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo Rosa Maria Pascarella, tenor Charles Reid and baritone Lester Lynch, and an illustrious quartet they are.

Van Roekel, a sparkling lyric soprano, was a finalist in the Regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition and has performed with the Florida Grand Opera.

Pascarella has extensive opera credits, while tenor Reid has sung at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and performed as a soloist with Washington's Folger Consort and Washington Bach Consort.

Lynch, a Pro Cantare mainstay, won the 1996 Metropolitan Opera Competition and has been featured in lead roles at La Scala, the Houston Grand Opera and the Seattle Opera. This fall, he joined Pro Cantare for an eloquent, deeply felt performance of the title role in Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah."

As the miracles of the Christmas story become more and more a part of our consciousness in the coming weeks, so will Herr Handel's miraculous creation. "No matter how many times we do it," says Motyca Dawson, "the power of the work shines through."

Handel emigrated to London in 1712, following his German prince who was called to England to become King George II.

The composer's mastery of Italian opera soon made him the toast of Britain. But the late 1730s marked a turning point in his topsy-turvy life. Whether generated by spiritual stirrings, a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1737 or his changing sense of what the public desired from him, Handel changed his artistic focus.

"Israel in Egypt" (1738) and "Saul" (1739) made it clear that the giant of the opera house was now the master of a new medium - the oratorio.

And Messiah, composed in just 24 incredible days in 1741 and premiered in Dublin in April the next year, would become the best loved oratorio of them all.

Like "Israel in Egypt," Messiah distinguishes itself immediately from Handel's operatic past. For while the oratorio contains more than its share of memorable solo arias, the largest measure of its immortality is found in grand and glorious choruses such as "And the Glory of the Lord," "And He Shall Purify," "For Unto Us a Child Is Born," "Glory to God," "His Yoke Is Easy," the final "Amen" and, of course, the "Hallelujah."

"With Handel, choral music went beyond the sacred domain, straight into drama. The choruses are at the dramatic core of the work, and that's why we never tire of them year after year," explains Motyca Dawson.

"I did think I did see all heaven before me and the Great God himself," Handel is reputed to have said of his superhuman three weeks of work on Messiah.

Biographers debate the authenticity of his words, but there is no doubting the authenticity of the public's love affair with his results.

Columbia Pro Cantare's performance of Handel's "Messiah" will be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Advance sale tickets are $23 for adults and $20 for senior citizens and students; $25 and $22 at the door. A free preconcert lecture will be given at 6:30 p.m. on the Rouse Theatre stage. Refreshments will be served at intermission courtesy of the Elkridge Furnace Inn. Tickets: 410-465-5744 or 410-799-9321.

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