Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex is a rewarding, actually quite fascinating, piece of work.  It’s condensed to around 80 minutes but most of the well known numbers feature in some form.  Each takes the form of a filmed vignette filmed somewhere in Canada.  Some locations are urban, some are very much not; from David Pecaut Square to the high Arctic.  Twelve soloists and a number of different choirs are used.  Some pieces are sung in the original English but five other languages are also used.  The non-English pieces are not translations in fact they subvert Charles Jennens’ theology in some really interesting ways.  The TSO (or at least a bit of it) conducted by Johannes Debus provides the accompaniment.  The performances are good, the filming is excellent and the technical quality is first rate.  You can watch it for yourself at this link.


Since you can watch it in not much more time than it would take me to do a frame by frame review let’s skip that and talk about what directors Jpel Ivany and Rennalta Arluk seem to be doing here. Or, at least, what they did to me.  I would describe this as a “Reconciliation Messiah”.  It deemphasises the male, patriarchal and very English (settler) Nobodaddy of Jennens’ libretto and instead asks us, in a specifically Canadian context, to consider our relationship with Creation and, perhaps, the Creator.  There are several places where this is evident.  “For he is like a refiner’s fire” is filmed in Northern Alberta and contrasts pristine scenery with a smoking oil refinery.  Rihab Chaieb sings, very beautifully, “Elle fut méprisée”; which puts a very different slant on that number.  But for me the pivotal moment was Leela Gilday, singing in Dene.  Her version of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” situates us firmly, and forever, in Creation.  It’s not Redemption (for some kind of believers).  It’s who we are; water, air, earth and fire, forever.  And there is only one Creation and we belong to it as it belongs to us.  Maybe we should take care of it?

One could spend a long time unpacking all that is in Messiah/Complex.  Highly recommended.

1 thought on “Messiah/Complex

  1. Pingback: 2020 in review | operaramblings

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