ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “The Messiah” was a gift. George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece premiered in Dublin in 1742 in a benefit for three charities.
The New Mexico Philharmonic will join the Coro Lux Chamber Chorus in three performances of the legendary oratorio at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Dec. 14; Sandia Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Dec. 15, and at Rio Rancho’s V. Sue Cleveland High School on Friday, Dec. 20. David Felberg and Bradley Ellingboe will conduct.
The composer wrote “Messiah” in Dublin while he was facing the demise of his operatic career. For a new approach, he was determined to adopt the new English tradition of oratorio. In doing so, he created one of the most popular and oft-performed pieces in classical music history.
In the years after Handel’s death, the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs, a practice that often proved overblown and unwieldy, Coro Lux conductor Ellingboe said.
“In Handel’s day, the music was based on dance forms, so it had a lot of verve and bounce,” Ellingboe said. “It became such a warhorse that people would do it with 800 people in the crowd.
“The issue is to strip away all the buildup that’s historically inaccurate to make it as bouncy and joyous as it was meant to be,” he continued. “It (became) an obligation, and it should be a blast.”
The orchestra will perform the piece with Coro Lux and the Sandia Presbyterian Church Choir on Dec. 14-15 and with Coro Lux alone in the Rio Rancho concert on Dec. 20.
The “Messiah’s” text begins with prophecies by Isaiah and others, moving to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III, he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.
The custom of standing for the “Hallelujah” chorus originates from a belief that at the London premiere, King George II did so, which would have obliged all to stand. There is no convincing evidence that the king was present or that he attended any subsequent performance of “Messiah.”
Coro Lux is an Albuquerque-based community chorus founded in 2015. Ellingboe has led festival choruses in 35 states and 14 countries. As a bass-baritone, he has sung under such conductors as Robert Shaw and Sir David Willcocks.