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Published: 3 December 2009
Soprano Sophie Bevan shares the stage with dancer Laura Caldow
Soprano Sophie Bevan shares the stage with dancer Laura Caldow
All-singing and dancing Messiah

PURISTS may well find it irritating, if not annoying.
But, for most, the English National Opera’s staged performance of the Messiah at the Coliseum till next Friday will bring Handel’s masterpiece to life.
Director Deborah Warner turns the oratorio into a tale of everyday life by getting the entire cast to wear everyday clothes. In the process, they become ordinary people singing about Christ’s birth, death and resurrection as though the story has real meaning in their lives.
Dancers weave in and out among the chorus in the set pieces, adding visual interest, helping to sustain momentum during periods of repetitive music.
Although it works well for the most part, there are disappointments.
For instance, soprano soloist Sophie Brown rises to the challenge of “How Beautiful are the Feet,” one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. But she has to share the audience’s attention with two prancing dancers.
Her next great solo, “I know my Redeemer Liveth” is, frankly, a disaster. Poor Sophie is lying flat in a hospital bed, her head on a pillow, surrounded by the dead in glass coffins. You need good eye-sight to see her lips moving. Meanwhile, two nurses get the visual attention, folding and unfolding towels or checking the blood dripping from a bag.
This does not enhance, it distracts from Handel’s music, so that the production becomes irritating.
Perversely, shortly afterwards, one of the production’s most successful scenes takes place as the dead rise up from their coffins while bass soloist Brindley Sherratt sings “The Trumpet shall Sound”.
Singing by all the soloists is excellent throughout and the orchestra drives the music forward. Handel specialist Laurence Cummings maintains masterly control as conductor.
The chorus starts well, outstanding articulation, good phrasing in the “Glory of the Lord” and “He Shall Purify”. But deterioration sets in later so that the Hallelujah Chorus is just bland and loud, lacking gospel fervour and the final Amen Chorus sounds like a sing-a-long.
Just before the curtain falls, tinsel rains down from the ceiling, emphasising that this is Deborah Warner’s show not Handel’s masterpiece.
It’s so tacky, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d strayed into the final of Strictly Come Dancing.
Handel’s Messiah is at the Coliseum Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, WC2,
on December 4, 6, 8, 10 and 11. 020 472 0600


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