The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents George Frideric Handel’s ‘Messiah’ (December 22, 2017)


Photo Courtesy of Jag Gundu

George Frideric Handel
Born: Halle, now in Germany, Feb 23, 1685
Died: London, United Kingdom, Apr 14, 1759
Composed: 1741

The English oratorio, of which Messiah is arguably the greatest and certainly the most popular specimen, was a genre that Handel single-handedly invented by forging elements from existing types of dramatic and sacred music into a potent synthesis. When his fortunes as an operatic impresario declined in London through the 1730s, Handel increasingly turned his attention to oratorio. In 1741, the same year in which he gave his last Italian opera in London, Handel was invited to produce a season in Dublin, and that summer, he composed Messiah. The libretto was compiled by Charles Jennens, an eccentric but well-connected Englishman with a passion for literature and music. A public rehearsal on April 12, 1742, and the official première the next day drew large and enthusiastic audiences, and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews. In March of the following year, Handel introduced Messiah to London, though not before weathering some controversy instigated by religious authorities and others for whom the very concept of an oratorio—a musical setting of a religious subject intended for public entertainment outside the church—was an improper conflation of sacred and secular. Objections were short-lived, however, and Messiah quickly assumed its place (in the English-speaking world especially) as one of Handel’s most beloved works.

In many ways, Messiah is typical of a Handel oratorio—in its reliance on types of recitative and aria borrowed from opera, for instance, and in its basic structure of three large “acts” divided into smaller “scenes”. But Messiah differs from Handel’s other oratorios in some significant ways. First, it deals directly with the life of Christ—subject matter audiences were not accustomed to seeing in an English theatre. Second, the text, taken directly from the Authorized Version of the Bible, includes no real poetry, only relatively short units of prose. And third, the text is a narrative, not a drama—the story is not dramatized, but observed, related, interpreted, contemplated.
The libretto of Messiah gives almost no attention to Christ’s own words and deeds, preferring to maintain a more cosmic perspective, focusing on God’s redemption of mankind through Christ. Part One deals with Biblical prophecies of the Saviour, and their realization in the incarnation of Christ; Part Two deals with the events of Christ’s Passion and the ultimate triumph of the Second Coming; and Part Three comments on Christ’s role as Saviour.
Program note by Kevin Bazzana

Matthew Halls
Matthew Halls made his TSO début in February 2013. The word “versatile” is an apt description for British conductor Matthew Halls. He first came to prominence as a keyboard player and early music conductor, but Halls is now better known for his dynamic and intelligent work with major symphony orchestras and opera companies, and for his probing and vibrant interpretations of music of all periods.

Karina Gauvin
Karina Gauvin made her TSO début in December 2001. Recognized for her work in the Baroque repertoire, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin also sings Mahler, Britten, and the music of the late 20th and 21st centuries with equal success. The prestigious distinctions she has received include the title of “Soloist of the Year” awarded by the Communauté internationale des radios publiques de langue française, first prize in the CBC Radio competition for young performers, and the Virginia Parker Prize and Maggie Teyte Memorial Prize in London. In the 2017/18 season, she continues to thrill audiences both in the United States and Canada and also tours widely in Europe.

Krisztina Szabó
Krisztina Szabó made her TSO début in January 2009. This season, Krisztina Szabó makes her Royal Opera House, Covent Garden début in the world première of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence, and she reprises her roles with the Dutch National Opera in 2018.

Frédéric Antoun
Frédéric Antoun made his TSO début in December 2008. Frédéric Antoun was born in Québec and studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia.

Joshua Hopkins
Joshua Hopkins made his TSO début in January 2009. Chosen by Opera News as one of 25 artists poised to break out and become a major force in the coming decade, Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has been hailed as having “a glistening, malleable baritone of exceptional beauty, and…the technique to exploit its full range of expressive possibilities from comic bluster to melting beauty” (Opera Today).

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Noel Edison
Artistic Director
Cynthia Hawkins
Executive Director
Jennifer Min-Young Lee
Associate Conductor

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir made its TSO début in March 1937. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC), Canada’s world renowned large vocal ensemble, performs choral music drawn from five centuries, including grand symphonic masterworks, world premières of new compositions, and rarely heard works. In addition to appearing regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the TMC presents an annual series of subscription concerts and makes other guest appearances.

The TMC presented its first concert on January 15, 1895, as part of Massey Hall’s inaugural season. Since then, the TMC has flourished under the leadership of seven of Canada’s preeminent conductors. Under Noel Edison’s tenure, the Choir has won widespread praise from audiences and critics for its recordings, webcasts, and performances in Toronto, New York, Vienna, and Salzburg, and in Vancouver during the 2010 Cultural Olympiad.


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