AtG’s Messiah

Expectations could hardly have been higher for last night’s first performance of Against the Grain’s new production of Handel’s Messiah.  By and large they were met.  It’s become quite the thing to stage Handel’s oratorios and, for the most part, that’s fine.  They are really operas in disguise and work well when liberated from the concert setting.  Messiah is trickier.  Rather than a linear narrative there are a series of Biblical texts selected by librettist Charles Jennens to promote a literal and conservative evangelical Christianity.  There is no obvious staging solution.  One possibility is to invent a narrative and spin the story around it as Claus Guth did at Theater an der Wien in 2009.  AtG’s Joel Ivany’s solution is to stage it as a choreographed performance and use movement to bring depth to the words.  Here he is aided and abetted by choreographer Jennifer Nichols who has created a movement language tailored to the abilities and limitations of the singers.

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