I attended the Oratorio Society of New York‘s annual performance of George Frideric Handel‘s Messiah last night at Carnegie Hall. The piece was first performed in Dublin in 1742. The OSNY has been performing it every Christmas since 1874. Who am I to offer the slightest criticism in the face of all that history and tradition? Several portions of Messiah are of course rousing and moving. I’m gratified to have finally seen it performed live, particularly with such first-rate passion and expertise (hats off to conductor Kent Tritle, sopranos Kathryn Lewek and Rebecca Ringle, bass-baritone Dashon Burton, the orchestra and chorus…everyone) but I must say that the piece itself, which ran about 2 hours and 45 minutes with intermission, felt a bit trying at times. Messiah is an astonishingly complex work that soars and swirls and reaches for the heavens, but it is rather taken with itself. Handel was basically saying (a) “get down on your knees and stay there until this is over” and (b) “if you’re a devout Christian, this shouldn’t be a problem.” Handel wasn’t Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Excepting Messiah‘s famous “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” finale, he wasn’t given to themes or melodies that you could hum or hold onto. And the lyrics, boiled down, are a pious repetition of Christian platitudes about the absolutely glorious, mind-blowing divinity and wondrousness of Jesus Christ and the Holy Father and the archangels and so on. All right already. But it’s a “great” work and I let it all in. Happy for that.
I attended, truth be told, because my ex-wife Maggie is a soprano in the OSNY chorus. She scored upper balcony tickets for myself and the kids. I lucked out when a 40ish guy on the staircase offered me an orchestra seat…thanks! Sometimes things just work out.