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LISZTS | 6 Inventive Re-imaginings Of Handel’s Messiah

By Sara Schabas on December 12, 2017

‘Tis the season for… as many renditions of Handel’s Messiah as Toronto audiences can take. From Tafelmusik’s delightful “Singalong Messiah” featuring Maestro Ivars Taurins as Herr Handel and multiple renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus (because why not?) to Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, there’s no shortage of fun ways to get your Handel on in the GTA.

Here we present a round-up of some of the most inventive re-imaginings of this timeless piece, both old and new.

1: Against the Grain Theatre’s Messiah

This Dora-award winning production from 2015 featured a completely memorised, costumed, staged and choreographed rendition. Jennifer Nichols of Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik provided the choreography while AtG founder Joel Ivany staged. Check out some archival footage for a taste:

2: Classical Kids’ Hallelujah Handel!

All the young Canadians who grew up hearing these timeless and Juno award-winning story tapes on family trips in the car (or was that just me?) will remember the riveting story-telling and incorporation of bits of Messiah written by Toronto’s brilliant, beloved and recently passed away musician, educator and writer, Douglas Cowling. I personally still find it hard to listen to a choir sing “For unto us a child is born” without hearing Herr Handel’s voice yell: “those angels are too fat to get into heaven!” as the sopranos struggle with the coloratura. Anyone looking to introduce their child to the magic of Handel would be remiss not to own a copy of these CD’s.

3: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah

For the past three years, Soundstreams has presented an antidote to your typical symphonic Messiah with their undone creation, Electric Messiah. Under the direction of Adam Scime and Ashlie Corcoran in a concept by Kyle Brenders, this production at the Drake Underground has featured the singing of the Handel in multiple languages, dancing, a DJ, electric organ and plenty of electro-acoustic effects. Hopefully, they’ll return for a fourth round next season!

4: Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah with Sir Andrew Davis

In 2010, Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor Laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, decided it was time update the Messiah for a modern orchestra. They have recently released a CD of last season’s performance, complete with Davis’ updates that “keep Handel’s notes, harmonies and style intact, but make use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra” and features marimba, sleigh bells, and all sorts of new musical effects to illustrate Handel’s storytelling even more. With a recording that features grand opera singers Erin Wall, Elizabeth DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea and has recently been nominated for a Grammy, this sparkling version is certainly worth checking out.

5: Tafelmusik’s Singalong Messiah

A holiday favourite for Handel lovers across the GTA, we would be remiss not to mention what the Toronto Star has called “the most moving and joyful experience you could wish for.” Here’s a taste of what’s coming December 17th:

6: Der Messias, arranged by W. A. Mozart:

Performances of Mozart’s arrangement of his predecessor’s Messiah can be hard to come by, though one can’t deny the fun of hearing a tenor make his way through the soprano aria, “Rejoice, Greatly!” Not to mention that Mozart thought we were better off hearing a French horn that a trumpet sound in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” or “Sie schallt, die Posaun’” as Mozart has it. It would be a treat to hear this piece in Toronto in the near future. Otherwise, one can head to Halifax where Symphony Nova Scotia will be presenting it in English next week.


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Sara Schabas
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