Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, now billed as “annual”, opened last night at a packed Drake Underground. It’s substantially reworked from last year’s show though structurally it’s similar in that the same arias are sung by the same singers in the same order with similar linking sections. The differences though are notable. The space is configured differently with more conventional seating which makes it feel more like a concert than a happening, though there’s still lots of movement and action happening in different parts of the space. The electro-acoustic orchestra is gone; replaced by keyboards. John Gzowski and his electric guitar are up on stage rather than tucked away in an alcove. The linking choral sections have been remixed and the influence of Adam Scime on that is clear. It’s still a very interesting show and well worth seeing but I enjoyed it rather less than last year.
I actually have a hard time unpacking why I wasn’t having such a good time but I think it boils down to a view that it worked so well the first time because the blend of the quirky and the edgy with material that cleaved closer to Handel was just right. Just when one got to “OK I get the point, get on with it” territory, they did and we were back in more familiar territory. Last night I felt that there just wasn’t enough resolution of the tension. Plus of course some of the conceits were not new and thus not so effective. The Hallelujah Chorus on smartphones is fun but feels a bit “got the T shirt already” the second time. I think there were some subtle differences that pushed in that direction too. The linking segments felt longer and less Handelian. The electric guitar was balanced much further forward and was tending to overpower the singers (at least from where I was sitting). Christine Duncan’s He was Despised, which I described last year as “just about managed to not be completely OTT” this year sounded just that; completely over the top. This, I realise, is a style thing and Ms. Duncan’s fans will likely lap it up. For me there’s more than enough emotion in the words and music without extraneous vocal histrionics.
There’s a lot though that’s really good. Jeremy Dutcher’s extremely physical Ev’ry Valley is thrilling. Carla Huhtanen’s How beautiful are the Feet is touching and lovely. Gabriel Dharmoo’s extended vocals for cell phone are fun. The dancer Lybido added an exotic and welcome visual element. The opening arrangement for all four voices of Comfort Ye is clever. There’s a cool shouting match version of Why Do the Nations with Ms. Duncan and Mr. Dharmoo and it does end with a genuinely exciting arrangement/choreography of the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s a fine line between a decent show and really great.
Reservations aside this is an interesting show and I’ll almost certainly go again if there is a “third annual” if only to see what else they can come up with. Electric Messiah runs at the Drake Underground with two more performances tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm.