Carolina Phil's 'Messiah' Surpasses Last Year's Production
BY KATHLEEN WILFORD
Special to The Pilot
For the second consecutive year, the Carolina Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro David Michael Wolff, has presented Handel's classic oratorio "Messiah."
This year's Dec. 18 performance surpassed the original production in virtually every sense.
With a baroque-size orchestra of roughly 28 instruments and a chorus of 46 voices supporting four splendid soloists, the Carolina Philharmonic gave its richest, most colorful concert since its inception less than two years ago.
George Frideric Handel's masterpiece may be the single musical composition that virtually everyone with ears has actually heard. It's one of the rare, universally popular and satisfying works in the Western musical canon
The product of one of the 18th century's consummate geniuses, "Messiah" announces the birth of Christ and his redemptive mission, in the heroic language of a libretto based on the grandest translation of the Bible ever, the King James version.
Compared with opera, an oratorio is a modest form of composition, a dramatic but unstaged musical work for soloists, chorus and orchestra, based on a religious theme. There are no costumes, no scenery, no dramatic action.
In fact, for the prolific composer of operatic works, "Messiah" actually represents Handel's concession to the economic hard times of his own historical era.
His reputation and fortune in England were created by composing Italian operas, but a new fashion for English comic operas pushed Handel's works off the stage and literally bankrupted him in the late 1730s.
So, like many contemporary victims of our own economic downturn, Handel had to accept "downsizing" and return to a type of work he'd previously mastered, which was both popular and far less expensive and challenging to produce.
In "Messiah," however, the economic imperative only heightened his musical genius. Lovers of opera will sense the Italianate elements in "Messiah," with its rich arias, its dramatic momentum and its consummate, triumphant conclusion.
Voices worthy of opera's greatest works entertained on this afternoon. Tenor Melvin Ezzell and baritone Don Milholin effortlessly handled the baroque phrasing of Handel's libretto. Mezzo-soprano Shannon French, who has appeared frequently in Germany's opera and concert venues, expressed her joyousness both vocally and in the radiant smile that illuminated her face when she sang of the annunciation.
And soprano Young Mee Jun was the image of rejoicing, her body swaying gently and her countenance glowing as she implored the daughters of Zion and Jerusalem to "Rejoice greatly!"
Perhaps more astonishing than the performances of the talented soloists and the Carolina Philharmonic orchestra, all talented professionals after all, was the achievement of the afternoon's chorus.
The choristers had answered Wolff's open call to the local community to perform. There was no auditioning, no adherence to the biblical "many are called, but few are chosen" standard.
All who volunteered constituted the chorus. They rehearsed a dozen times over an eight-week period, and under Wolff's tutelage and direction, produced a magnificently spirited, in fact inspired, performance.
Is there any composition, including Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" at the conclusion of his magisterial "Ninth Symphony," that elevates the soul and thrills the senses as fully as Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"?
For a full 10 seconds, this reporter knew the feeling of pure joy, when chills, from my neck down my back and calves, arose at the conclusion of the "Hallelujah Chorus."
Finally, another highlight of the evening was the chorus' rendition of "For Unto Us a Child Is Born," when their voices erupted in ecstasy at the powerfully joyous announcement of his name: "Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God."
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