All tickets were sold out for the Messiah at Cleland Theatre last Thursday evening in Penticton.
The hall was crowded and so was the stage: the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra with all their regular instruments plus a harpsichord and a portable organ, the Okanagan Symphony Chorus with over 50 singers and the four outstanding soloists were ready to perform.
Handel’s magnificent oratorio Messiah was premiered in England in 1742. Since then it became immensely popular all over the world. Now is mostly performed around Christmas to celebrate the spiritual aspect of the holiday season. The libretto by Charles Jennens draws from sources of the Old and the New Testament.
The oratorio unfolded similar to an opera; the themes were Advent and Nativity, the Passion of Christ and Resurrection, and Christ’s teachings. After a stately then lively instrumental introduction Alberta tenor Jason Ragan sang a recitative Comfort Ye My People. The slow tempo and the long held notes allowed for dynamic modelling of the melodic lines. Arpeggiated chords on the harpsichord and a harmonic background from the orchestra brought Regan’s expressive voice and the poetic words into the foreground.
Conductor Rosemary Thomson, who is an excellent vocal coach, worked wonders with the chorus. The swiftly meandering phrases, the treacherous canon style entries and the extreme high and low registers were negotiated with ease in the jubilant Hallelujah chorus.
Gordon Bintner’s rich bass-baritone voice shone in the aria Why Do The Nations So Furiously Rage Together. In spite of the galloping tempo the pitch and the rhythm always stayed accurate and the words were clear. His tall and slim appearance too was an asset to the noble ambience.
Mezzo soprano Lynne McMurtry expressed the drama and sorrow of Christ’s passion poignantly. Her lyrical interpretation of the text brought tears to the eyes in He Was Despised.
Joy and resurrection followed. Stephanie Nakagawa’s crystal clear soprano reassured in the aria I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. It was delightful to listen to her effortless coloraturas. Her beautiful smile and her exquisite gown brightened up the stage.
Finally, a multi-faceted Amen arose from the men’s voices, then the women’s, the strings, till everyone joined together with trumpet fanfares and timpani thunder. It was a grand finale and a wonderful beginning for this year’s Christmas holiday.
Roswitha Masson is a symphony concert reviewer living in Penticton.