Saturday, December 15, 2018 • 7:30 p.m.
Seattle First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)
Sunday, December 16, 2018 • 3:00 p.m.
Everett First Presbyterian Church (2936 Rockefeller Ave)
Seattle Chamber Singers
William White, conductor
Amanda Opuszynski, soprano
Laura Beckel Thoreson, mezzo-soprano
Brendan Tuohy, tenor
José Rubio, baritone
George Frideric Handel (1685 –1759)
Messiah, HWV 56
About the Concert
“The Sublime, the Grand and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” So read the first-ever review of George Frideric Handel’s supreme masterpiece, premiered in 1742. To this day, the holiday season in the English-speaking world would be incomplete without a performance of Messiah. This oratorio is a cornerstone of OSSCS’s repertoire, and once again we are joined by some of the nation’s finest vocal soloists to present it in its complete, unabridged glory.
About the Soloists
Soprano Amanda Opuszynski, hailed for her “luscious,” “powerful” voice and “dazzling technical facility,” returned to Seattle Opera during the 2016–2017 season as the Dew Fairy/Sandman in Hänsel und Gretel and Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, and made her Arizona Opera debut as Bess Erne in the world-premiere production of Riders of the Purple Sage. Notable past engagements include Frasquita in Carmen (Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, Atlanta Opera, Pacific Symphony), Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos (Seattle Opera, Virginia Opera), Musetta in La bohème (South Dakota Symphony), Micaëla in Carmen (St. Petersburg Opera), Johanna in Sweeney Todd (Virginia Opera), Oscar in Un ballo in maschera (Boston Youth Symphony) and Nannetta in Falstaff (Virginia Opera). Ms. Opuszynski has enjoyed apprenticeships with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Festival and the Wolf Trap Opera Studio. She is the winner of a prestigious Career Development Award from the Sullivan Foundation and Santa Fe Opera’s Lilian Caroff Meyer Award, and is a two-time regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Learn more: amandaopuszynski.com • @SopranoAmanda
Mezzo-soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, hailed by Oregon ArtsWatch as “one of the loveliest voices in the Northwest,” enjoys a singing career spanning opera, oratorio, recital and ensemble performances. She has appeared as a solo artist with Portland Opera, Eugene Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Indianapolis Opera, Augusta Opera, Early Music Vancouver, Oregon Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony and Cincinnati Symphony, among others. An avid proponent of both early and new music, Ms. Thoreson frequently participates in world-premiere performances and appears on Billboard Top Ten recordings. Upcoming and recent engagements include Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the Ensemble of Oregon, Pluviosity by Northwest composer Stacey Phillips, Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony with Portland Youth Philharmonic, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Willamette Master Chorus, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Oregon Sinfonietta, Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Portland Opera, Handel’s Messiah with Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Naples (Florida) Philharmonic, and Lili Boulanger’s Du fond de l’abîme with OSSCS. A native of Vancouver, Washington, and a graduate of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Ms. Thoreson currently holds a faculty position at Clark College. Learn more: laurabeckelthoreson.com
Tenor Brendan Tuohy has been praised by The Cincinnati Post for his “big, bold tenor edged with silver.” This summer he returned to the Grant Park Music Festival to sing Haydn’s Theresienmesse, following a 2017 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His other engagements have included Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince with Opera Theater Oregon, Haydn’s The Seasons with OSSCS, and the iSing International Music Festival in Suzhou, China. Recent operatic roles include Tony in Bernstein’s West Side Story, Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bénédict in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, all with Eugene Opera, Ferrando in Così fan tutte with City Opera Bellevue, the Chevalier in Dialogues des Carmélites with Vashon Opera, and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with the Berlin Opera Academy. In France, he has sung Mozart with Opéra Orchestre National de Montpellier and Diomede in Cavalli’s recently rediscovered Elena with l’Op éra d’Angers-Nantes and l’Opéra de Rennes. Mr. Tuohy completed his academic training at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a master’s degree in vocal performance. In 2008, he had the honor of singing and competing in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Semi-Finals in New York City. Learn more: brendan-tuohy.com
Baritone José Rubio’s Carnegie Hall recital debut met with great acclaim, The Opera Insider proclaiming it “nothing short of stellar” and describing the performance as “an hour of intensely passionate singing and playing. It could have gone on forever without complaint.” Mr. Rubio’s current season includes the world premiere of Emerson Eads’ opera Princess Sophia in Juneau, Alaska, the role of Bernardo in West Side Story with the Evansville Philharmonic, and a return to Alamo City Opera to sing Hannah in the contemporary American opera As One. In 2019 he will make a role and house debut with Indianapolis Opera singing the role of Lancelot in the classic musical Camelot, and will finish the operatic season with a role debut of Stanley Kowalski in André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire at Vashon Opera. Mr. Rubio’s recent engagements include the role of Escamillo in Carmen with Tacoma Opera, performances of La Bohème and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Bremerton Symphony, and Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Whatcom Symphony and Evansville Philharmonic. He is featured on recordings of two Philip Glass operas (Orpheé and Galileo Galilei) on the Orange Mountain Music label, and can be heard on Albany Records’ world- premiere recording of Evan Mack’s Angel of the Amazon. Learn more: joserubiobaritone.com
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve titled the 2018–2019 OSSCS season “Introductions,” and perhaps you’re thinking, “How could such a well-worn chestnut as Messiah fit with that theme?”
It’s certainly true that many of us have listened to Messiah every December for many years, but one thing I always try to keep in mind is that any performance of any piece
will inevitably be somebody’s first exposure to it. But more to the point, this year’s Messiah is in fact my own introduction to the work.
This is my first experience conducting the full Messiah. I’ve sung and played in abridged Messiah performances before, and I’ve conducted a few of the choruses, but much of score is still new to me. Learning it for the first time has been a process of adventure and discovery. I’ve listened to dozens of recordings over the past couple of months and have come to one single, solid conclusion: there are as many ways to perform Handel’s Messiah as there are musicians to perform it.
There are fast versions, slow versions, versions with four-person choirs and versions with 400-person choirs. The music has been interpreted and reconfigured over the course of centuries by our greatest musical minds. Mozart worshiped this music to the extent that he even created his own orchestration (performed by OSSCS in 2001) that included clarinets and trombones. Later arrangers and conductors added even more fanciful colors, including harps, snare drum and marimba.
This inflationary trend has reversed course in recent decades as musicians have returned to Handel’s original text, and the oratorio is now regularly performed with modestly sized ensembles. But modesty of size doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of drama or majesty — quite the opposite!
The music that Handel wrote is taut, vivid and dynamic. He composed the entire piece in a three-week flash of inspiration, and in it, he wrests every drop of emotion he can from four soloists, a choir, and a smattering of instruments. From the might of the “Hallelujah!” chorus to the poignancy of “He was despised,” Handel allows his singers and players to express the full range of human emotion that runs through Messiah’s text.
Now that I’ve been properly introduced to Handel’s Messiah, I can’t wait to get to know it better and to spend time with it for many years to come.
— William White
George Frideric Handel
Messiah, HWV 56
Handel was born in Halle, Germany, on February 23, 1685, and died in London on April 14, 1759. He composed Messiah between August 22 and September 14 of 1741. The oratorio was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, under the direction of the composer. In addition to a quartet of vocal soloists and choir, the work calls for 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 trumpets, timpani, harpsichord and strings.
Handel, renowned in his day as an organist and as a highly prolific writer of Italian operas and English oratorios, was born in Germany in 1685 about a month before J.S. Bach. He received his musical training in Italy, and later became 18th-century England’s “national composer.” Between February and November 1741, Handel — suffering at the age of 56 from various ailments, both financial and physical — withdrew increasingly from public life. At some point that year, the composer received from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the governors of Dublin’s three major charitable institutions an invitation to travel to that city to aid the charities through the performance of his music. Handel was well known in Dublin as a church-music composer, and his works were often played there to benefit charities. It may thus have been this invitation that provided the incentive for Handel to compose “a new sacred Oratorio.” In July of 1741, Charles Jennens, who was responsible for the texts of Handel’s oratorios Israel in Egypt and Saul, gave the struggling Handel the libretto of Messiah, a compilation of biblical texts from both the Old and New Testaments.
On August 22, Handel began to set Jennens’ text to music. He finished the first part of his new oratorio (which deals with the prophecy of Christ’s coming and his nativity) in six days, the second part (which describes Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, the spread of his gospel, the resistance of the heathen, and the vision of the ultimate triumph of the gospel in the establishment of God’s kingdom) in nine days, and the third part (which celebrates the gift of resurrection and eternal life offered to all through Christ’s victory over death) in six more days, with two or three additional days for completing the orchestration. Regarding Handel’s state of mind during Messiah’s composition, biographer Jonathan Keates observes in his 1992 book Handel: The Man and Music that “etherealized visions of the elderly master refusing food, weeping into the semiquavers and having angelic hallucinations are mostly moonshine.”
In the autumn of 1741, Handel accepted the invitation to visit Dublin, arriving there on November 18 with the completed score of Messiah in his traveling bags, but it was not until April 13, 1742, that the oratorio received its premiere. Seven hundred people were able to squeeze into Dublin’s Musick Hall in Fishamble-street to hear the work performed by the choirs of Dublin’s two cathedrals (totaling fewer than 40 men and boys) and the string band (reinforced occasionally by trumpets and timpani — oboe and bassoon parts were written later), all directed from the keyboard by Mr. Handel himself. The work created a sensation: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded Audience,” exulted Faulkner’s Journal. “The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.” Handel divided his share of the proceeds (about £400), as did the other performers, among Dublin’s three most important charities.
Messiah is unique among Handel’s works, being his only biblical oratorio using texts from the New Testament, and his only “Christian-contemplative” oratorio. Although the text is not a dramatic narrative but an epic-lyric poem celebrating Christian redemption, Handel’s musical approach in setting Jennens’ libretto was decidedly dramatic. The work’s three parts recall the three acts of Italian operas, and the oratorio is indeed a piece designed by a seasoned operatic professional to “entertain,” in the best sense of the word, listeners in a concert room, not chiefly to instruct or edify a congregation or to be used in any sort of worship.
Handel synthesizes the best elements of the three musical traditions in which he was steeped: the Italian, the German and the English. He makes use of Italian forms of musical expression, borrowing, rearranging and transforming into “duet-choruses” (such as “And he shall purify”) some passages from his own Italian love duets. In the “Pastoral Symphony” (entitled Pifa) that introduces the shepherds, Handel alludes to the music of the pifferari, the country bagpipers who descend the Italian mountains during the Christmas season to play in village streets. Handel employs German musical ideas, particularly in the music describing Jesus’ suffering and death, where the jagged dotted rhythms and forceful harmonies have a particularly German expressive quality. In that great “coronation march,” the “Hallelujah Chorus,” melodic fragments echoing the German chorale “Wachet auf” may be heard in “The kingdom of this world” and in “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Handel’s melodic shapes, vocal treatment, grand anthem-like choruses, and text-setting display the “English character” that has ensured Messiah’s unchallenged supremacy in the English choral repertoire: in such arias as “He was despised” and “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” the rhythms of the music grow out of the natural speech rhythms of the words, so that the music expresses the text directly and powerfully, and then illustrates it almost visually (e.g., “Every valley shall be exalted,” “The people that walked in darkness,” and “All we, like sheep”).
The easy accessibility and glorious variety of the music that results from the confluence of these elements (and which often conceals the exalted art underlying it) has helped to guarantee Messiah’s survival, through a seeming infinitude of “arrangements,” versions and types of presentation, as one of the most popular pieces ever composed. As R.A. Streatfeild observes, “Messiah, if not Handel’s greatest work, is undoubtedly the most universal in its appeal” because it continues to sing to “high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish alike” a magnificent song of salvation, fresh, vital and full of aesthetic and spiritual grace.
— Lorelette Knowles