As famed soprano Meredith Hall and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove entered the stage in red satin and divine elegance, baritone Hugh Russell and tenor John Tessier quickly followed suit and performed with every ounce of their brilliant vocal ability. Nicholas McGregor is a conductor who's all about bringing out the vibrancy of a piece, he is also about etiquette. During a few of the first pauses in the music, ushers brought latecomers into the hall and McGregor paused with shock that they would interrupt this masterpiece from flowing from his orchestra. Thankfully, after everyone had taken their seats, the audience giggled a bit which lightened the atmosphere and brought it back to the orchestration and atmosphere of the piece.
Smooth violins ached brilliantly as they rang through the house, which was packed overall on this opening night. This being one of my first experiences seeing an opera, I was amazed at the projection of the vocals without a lapel mic, it brought a traditional amphitheatre feel to the evening. One of the most amazing things I witnessed though was hearing the Gospel through Roy Thompson Hall this Christmas, it seems it was the only place outside of a church you could hear it, as everyone from print advertisers to broadcasters seem reliant on "Happy Holidays", so it was a joy to see Christ included in the Christmas season. Even the Scripture used for Handel's Messiah that told about the great joy of His coming was a welcome reminder of how "Merry Christmas" still applies to all, as Jesus was born for all to come and know Him.
McGregor was precise in his direction of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, a four part choir consisting of over 100 members, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; he flawlessly orchestrated their emphasis, tone, and timing. Whenever the choir stood up to perform each of their parts, it added fullness to the sound, especially during the famed Hallelujah chorus, which the audience even stood for, just as when it was first made a tradition to do so by King George II. I would have liked to have heard Meredith Hall perform a cappella on a few bars, her voice needs to be heard solo, but the orchestra complimented her vocals and the rest of the performers of the evening.
Overall, Handel's Messiah is a welcome traditional Christmas opera that shows the brilliance of Handel's arrangement in harmony with his passion for Christ's message and Mozart's additional musical accompaniment.
For more information on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra please visit www.tso.ca.
Writer: Lindsay Whitfield