Staging adds a different drama to the 'Messiah'
By Mark Kanny
Published: Monday, Nov. 28, 2011,
George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" transcends the concert stage. Although initially intended for Easter performance, it's become a musical rite of Christmas.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's revival of it this season, after a one-year hiatus, will be different from all of its previous performances. The oratorio will be presented as a staged baroque opera set in three periods of American history.
"It's great to tell the story from the American perspective," symphony music director Manfred Honeck says. "I know we've gotten a lot of interest about it from outside of Pittsburgh. We all know this piece so well, it's good to have more aspects to reflect on."
Honeck will conduct four vocal soloists, the Mendelssohn Choir and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in three performances of Handel's "Messiah" Friday through Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
The front of the stage will be lowered to create an orchestra pit. Sam Helfrich is the stage director. Costumes are by Nancy Leary, sets by Laura Jellinek and lighting by Eric Southern.
The conductor will be leading his first full "Messiah," although he's performed it as a string player and conducted some excerpts.
"When I played it, I always had the feeling that I longed for something else to give a message and a link to our time," he says.
When symphony management asked him to conduct it, he requested some time to think about how to present it.
Honeck likes to find different ways to present familiar music. His has scored big successes here and elsewhere with a special version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem. He performed it again this fall in Copenhagen at a televised concert.
" 'Messiah' was always very hard to follow for me. It's very hard to hold concentration for the whole three hours -- apart from the fantastic music," he says. "I love what Handel did, but I'm interested in giving more message to people when I conduct this piece written more than 300 years ago. Then I had the idea to make a semi-staged version."
Honeck spoke with Pittsburgh Opera general director Christopher Hahn about his idea and asked for recommendations for a director. Among those Hahn mentioned was Helfrich, who directed compelling productions of "The Turn of The Screw" in 2005 and "Eugene Onegin" in 2009 for Pittsburgh Opera.
Helfrich says he found Honeck's idea fascinating. The director says his creative process began with considering the character of each of the three parts of "Messiah." The nonlinear narrative he created begins in the 1950s, which he notes is viewed so nostalgically today. The action will move to present day America for the more troubled second part, which includes the choruses "All we like sheep have gone astray" and "Why do the nations so furiously rage together" before ending with the glory of the Hallelujah Chorus.
The final part, which opens with the aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth," is set a century ago as immigrants to this country sought a new life.
"In the end, it has turned out to be more than I expected and wanted to do," Honeck says, "but I am completely behind that. It's better because it gives more freedom to the director to express his thoughts and feelings about the music, and also to tell the story more clearly."
Honeck is prepared for the production to be controversial.
"I'm sure there will be some people who think the music is strong enough," he says. "I'm also sure this provocative way will be exciting for people who will experience this famous piece in a different way. We should be open to that. I have to take the risk. Life is easier without it, but excitement without risk is not possible."Additional Information:
Presented by: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, conductor, and the Mendelssohn Choir
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Admission : $20-$93
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown
Details: 412-392-4900 or website
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers coach Tomlin fined $100K by NFL
- VA Butler hopes to award contract for health care clinic in spring
- 3 accomplices plead guilty to murder, torture of mentally challenged Mt. Pleasant woman
- Police intercept North Huntingdon man’s growth hormone package
- Penn Hills native moves from Penn State to Sabres front office
- Plum school board OKs new bus-route plotting software
- Trafford’s long-vacant ‘bank building’ sold for $15,000
- Starkey: Tomlin imposter fuels conspiracy theories
- Pirates’ Snider talks about surgery, rebuilding swing
- WPXI records wins in 25 to 54 age demographic
- Princess Lanes caters to leagues, families in updated facility