Though not originally a Christmas oratorio, Handel's 'Messiah' is now a storied holiday tradition.
1) The MSO orchestra and chorus bring a true masterpiece to life.
George Frideric Handel famously penned the 250+ page score in just over three weeks in 1741, which one expert estimates works out to a rate of about 15-20 notes per minute. The show is typically two-and-a-half to three hours long, depending on tempo (the MSO’s is approximately two hours, 25 minutes), but it’s anything but a slog.
Under the baton of conductor Christopher Seaman and direction of Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill, the MSO chorus and orchestra deliver acrobatic melismas and impossible crescendos, which resound throughout the heavenly heights of the Basilica of St. Josaphat. Messiah is a symphonic marathon, and the MSO triumphantly crosses the finish line with the final syllable of the Amen chorus.
2) All four solo vocalists deliver stunning performances.
Soprano Ellie Dehn, mezzo-soprano Andrea Hill, tenor Marc Molomot and baritone Hadleigh Adams are absolutely radiant in their solo performances, bringing technical agility and depth to Handel’s score. It’s a real treat to see vocalists of this caliber performing all in one place.
3) There’s no better place for a Christmas concert than the Basilica of St. Josaphat.
The basilica is appropriately majestic for the subject matter — somber, yet festive. Messiah is best experienced in a church, and St. Josaphat is arguably the most beautiful church to call Milwaukee home. Built over a century ago in emulation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Josaphat is almost as much of a masterpiece as Messiah itself.
4) Messiah might be one of the last transcendent experiences you’ll find in a smartphone-addled world.
Close your eyes and let the “Hallelujah” chorus wash over you. Or take in the painted ceilings, twinkling trees and gilded interiors of St. Josaphat as Ellie Dehn hits that high note. For the religious and secular alike, Messiah is more of a meditative experience than a show, a palate cleanser for the post-Christmas-shopping crowd.
5) It’s the perfect introduction to classical music.
Because of its familiar choruses (“Hallelujah,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” “His Yoke is Easy”), seasonal messaging and festive atmosphere, Messiah is both a beloved holiday tradition and an accessible entry point into more highbrow Christmas entertainments. It might be too long or languid for very young children, but teens might just develop a passion for the Baroque after seeing this performance.
6) The “Hallelujah” Chorus.
It bears repeating: nothing beats a live performance of this masterpiece of a choral composition, closing out Part II of the program, and the MSO knocks it out of the park. In close second is the final piece of the night, “Amen.” In the case of Messiah, hearing is believing.
Go See It: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performs Handel’s Messiah; Thursday, December 20 – Sunday, December 23 at The Basilica of St. Josaphat (2333 S. Sixth St.)