I know that seems like an odd combination, and it’s even odder to be working on it in the middle of August. However, I’m most of the way through a week of staging rehearsals for a half dozen performances of a staged Messiah with American Opera Theater that will happen this December.
Staging a work that has no overt dramatic narrative presents some real challenges, but I think Tim Nelson has come up with an engaging and powerful production.
I was a bit put off when we staged my first number, “Thus saith the Lord,” and the action seemed to deliberately misinterpret the text. I became somewhat frightened when we staged Part II, which becomes rather violent and in which the action causes beloved sentimental numbers to take on a sinister and sarcastic tone. However, I find myself convinced by the dramatic arc he has painted and the daring exploration of faith from a variety of perspectives.
This production is bound to spark controversy, but I think it will be more likely to come from Handel loyalists than from Christians. In fact, I find the “story” he has created to be profoundly Christian, redemptive and timeless. But it certainly doesn’t confine itself to the cascade of revelation and jubilation that characterizes a typical concert performance. Anyone expecting anything resembling a normal holiday Messiah is in for a big shock. And this production is definitely not for kids.
However, I think it will be particularly powerful for anyone who has wrestled with religion or had a crisis of faith. And perhaps for anyone who hasn’t, it may lend insight into the struggles that some have with coming to terms with God, and offer a lesson in the true meaning of Grace.
My own reflections this week could probably fill several good essays, and perhaps I’ll address some of them here in the future. But for now, perhaps it will be enough to have given this site its first update in several months.