Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Toronto Symphony orchestra's rendition of Georg Friedrich Händel's Messiah (1742) A Sacred Oratorio

Roy Thomson Hall

Nothing augments Christmas like attending a rousing performance of Händel’s Messiah, and at Roy Thomson Hall this year with the TSO, it was a real treat!

According to the program notes, "the English oratorio, of which Messiah is arguably the greatest and certainly the most popular specimen, was a genre that Handel single-handedly invented by forging elements from existing types of dramatic and sacred music into a potent synthesis. In 1741, the same year in which he gave his last Italian opera in London; Handel was invited to produce a season in Dublin, and that summer he composed Messiah. The libretto was compiled by Charles Jennens, an eccentric but well-connected Englishman with a passion for literature and music. A public rehearsal on April 12, 1742 and the official premiere the next day drew large and enthusiastic audiences, and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews. 'It gave universal Satisfaction to all present,’ one local newspaper wrote, ‘and was allowed by the greatest Judges to be the finest Composition of Musick that ever was heard.'"

I was thrilled by the performances of conductor, Christopher Warren-Green, the TSO musicians, the brilliant soloists - soprano Klara Ek, counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo, tenor John Tessier, baritone Russell Braun and the terrific Toronto Mendelssohn Choir bouncing their beautiful voices back and forth, uniting, dissolving and culminating in a dramatic Hallelujah Chorus taking us all out of our seats as is the custom but this time with utmost drive and vitality.

Christopher Warren-Green making his Toronto Symphony début, was a joy to watch, with his meticulous timing and melodic emphasis, at one point jumping into the air, arms thrust forward while the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir capably responded to his urgings from simple sweet sound to powerful pyrotechnics. Expressive American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo ranged from sheer joy to profound sorrow and was a pleasure to watch while Swedish soprano Klara Ek sang with stirring clarity. The two Canadians, tenor John Tessier and baritone Russell Braun, a replacement for John Relyea, were poised and convincing, Mr. Braun particularly splendid accompanied by the TSO trumpet soloist in "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

Here is some interesting background from the evening's program :

"Christopher Warren-Green's sensitive interpretation and poised command has earned him the greatest respect throughout the music-making world. Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, North Carolina, other key dates in North America have included with the Minnesota Orchestra and The Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, as well as the St. Louis, Houston, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Vancouver symphony orchestras."

"Klara Ek has a voice of remarkable clarity and beauty - qualities recognized by many of the world's leading conductors and orchestras. Notable debuts include The Creation with Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, Bach's Magnificat with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Schumann's Szenen aus Goethes Faust with Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Mahler's Symphony No. 2 and No. 4 with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and the LA Philharmonic, as well as The Creation with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Mahler's Symphony No. 4 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich."

"Lawrence Zazzo made his operatic debut as Oberon (A Midsummer Nights Dream) to great acclaim while completing his studies at the Royal College of Music in London. He has since appeared at many of the world's leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, Staatsoper unrer den Linden, Oper Frankfurt, and Bayerische Staatsoper, He created the role of Trinculo in Thomas Ades's The Tempest at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, while the role of Kreon (Liebermann's Medea) brought his debut at Opera national de Paris. Highlights this season include Orfeo ed Euridice with Den orske Opera, as Ruggiero in Vivaldi's Grlando [urioso for Oper Frankfurt, and Amadigi with the kammer-orchesterbasel in Halle, Versaille, and Basel. In concert, highlights include Messiah with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, St. Matthew Passion with Soli Deo Gloria, and a recital at Wigmore Hall with a new commission from lain Bell."

"On the international stages of opera, concert, and recital, Canadian John Tessier has garnered attention and praise for his voice, style, and presence in the lyric tenor repertoire. The JUN0 Award-winning artist has worked with many notable conductors including Lorin Maazel, Leonard Slatkin, Placido Domingo, John Nelson, Franz Welser-Most, Emmanuelle Halm, Charles Dutoit, Donald Runnicles, Robert Spano, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, and Bernard Labadie."

"Russell Braun's intelligent and thoughtful portrayals of Chou En-lai, Billy Budd, Prince Andrei, Figaro, Papageno, Count Almaviva, Don Giovanni, Pelleas, Eugene Onegin, and The Traveller have captivated audiences at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, L''Opera de Paris, the State Opera in Vienna, the Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Los Angeles Opera, La Scala in Milan, and the Salzburg and Glyndebourne Festivals."

TSO   Toronto Mendelssohn Choir

"The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC), Canada's world-renowned large vocal ensemble, performs choral music drawn from five centuries, including grand symphonic masterworks, world premieres of new compositions, and rarely heard works. In addition to its own concert season, the TMC also appears regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and makes other guest appearances. Find out about the full TMC concert schedule at The TMC presented its first concert on January 15, 1895 as part of Massey Hall's inaugural season. Since then the TMC has flourished under the leadership of seven of Canada's pre-eminent conductors, most recently Noel Edison. Under Edison's tenure the Choir has won widespread praise for its recordings and from audiences and critics for its performances in Toronto, New York, Vienna, Salzburg, and in Vancouver during the 2010 Cultural Olympiad."

Christopher Warren-Green conducts - Josh Clavir photo   Toronto Mendelssohn Choir

Addendum: the libretto


1. Sinfonia (Overture)

2. Accompagnato Tenor
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40: 1-3)

3. Air Tenor
Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, and ev'ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40: 4)

4. Chorus
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40: 5)

5. Accompagnato Bass
Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)

The Lord, whom seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3: 1)

6. Air Alto or soprano
But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire. (Malachi 3: 2)

7. Chorus

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 3)

8. Recitative Alto
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us. (Isaiah 7: 14; Matthew 1: 23)

9. Air and Chorus Alto
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your god! (Isaiah 40: 9) Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (Isaiah 60: 1)


O thou that tellest... etc.

10. Accompagnato Bass
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60: 2-3)

11. Air Bass
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9: 2)

12. Chorus

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

13. Pifa ("Pastoral Symphony")

14a. Recitative Soprano
There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 2: 8)

14b. Accompagnato Soprano
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. (Luke 2: 9)

15. Recitative Soprano
And the angel said unto them: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2: 10-11)

16. Accompagnato Soprano
And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: (Luke 2: 13)

17. Chorus

"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men." (Luke 2: 14)

18. Air Soprano
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. Rejoice greatly... da capo (Zecharaiah 9: 9-10)

19. Recitative Alto
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35: 5-6)

20. Air (or Duet)
(Alto &) soprano
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40: 11)

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11: 28-29)

21. Chorus

His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11: 30).


22. Chorus

Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1: 29)

23. Air Alto
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53: 3) He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off His hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. He was despised... da capo (Isaiah 53: 6)

24. Chorus

Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. (Isaiah 53: 4-5)

25. Chorus

And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 5)

26. Chorus

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 6)

27. Accompagnato Tenor
All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying: (Psalm 22: 7)

28. Chorus

"He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him." (Psalm 22: 8)

29. Accompagnato Tenor
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart: He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort him. (Psalm 69: 20)

30. Arioso Tenor
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow. (Lamentations 1: 12)

31. Accompagnato Soprano or tenor
He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken. (Isaiah 53: 8)

32. Air Soprano or tenor
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. (Psalm 16: 10)

33. Chorus

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory. (Psalm 24: 7-10)

34. Recitative Tenor
Unto which of the angels said He at any time: "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?" (Hebrews 1: 5)

35. Chorus

Let all the angels of God worship Him. (Hebrews 1:6)

36. Air Alto or soprano
Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even from Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them. (Psalm 68: 18)

37. Chorus

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers. (Psalm 68: 11)

38. Air (or duet and Chorus) Soprano or alto (or soprano, alto and Chorus)
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things. (Isaiah 52: 7; Romans 10: 15)

39. Chorus (or air for tenor)

Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10: 18; Psalm 19: 4)

40. Air (or Air and Recitative) Bass
Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed. (Psalm 2: 1-2)

41. Chorus

Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us. (Psalm 2: 3)

42. Recitative Tenor
He that dwelleth in Heav'n shall laugh them to scorn; The Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2: 4)

43. Air Tenor
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (Psalm 2: 9)

44. Chorus

Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19: 6)

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11: 15) King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. (Revelation 19: 16) Hallelujah!


45. Air Soprano
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19: 25-26) For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. (I Corinthians 15: 20)

46. Chorus

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15: 21-22)

47. Accompagnato Bass
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (I Corinthians 15: 51-52)

48. Air Bass
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. The trumpet... da capo (I Corinthians 15: 52-53)

49. Recitative Alto
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15: 54)

50. Duet Alto & tenor
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (I Corinthians 15: 55-56)

51. Chorus

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15: 57)

52. Air Soprano alto
If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8: 31) Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us. (Romans 8: 33-34)

53. Chorus

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 5: 12-14)

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