Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience, Drury Lane Theatre

by Euan Vincent

When Handel wrote the Messiah in 1741, he faced fierce competition within the dwindling operagoing-market to get more bums on seats. Opera was seen as obtuse, elitist and too expensive (oh, how times have changed). Faced with this reticence, Handel wrote Messiah as an oratorio, which is similar to opera but isn’t typically staged, is written in English and focuses heavily on Christian themes – all of which were designed to broaden the appeal of his piece to the widest audience possible.

281 years later and Classical Everywhere, an offshoot of Immersive Everywhere (the company that brought us immersive interpretations of Peaky Blinders and The Great Gatsby), is again attempting to broaden the appeal of the Messiah by adding an array of elements to turn the piece immersive.

At its core, Gregory Batsleer conducts The London Symphony Chorus and the English Chamber Orchestra through Handel’s score and Danielle De Niese (Soprano), Idunnu Münch (Mezzo-Soprano), Cody Quattlebaum (Baritone-Bass) and Nicky Spence (Tenor) each delivers the librettos.

Suffusing this are the immersive elements. Looming large and centre stage – between the two curtains of the choir – stands a 20+ foot rectangular screen that casts a visual interpretation of Handel’s text. Three dancers (Dan Baines, Jemima Brown and Sera Maehera) offer further interpretation guided by Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography and a series of poems written by spoken word artist P Burton-Morgan. They are delivered by Martina Laird and Arthur Darvill, who provide the additional dimension of an exploration of the relationship between mother and child, a possible suggestion of Mary and Joseph.

There are moments of magic throughout. The problem, however, is that they are often found within solitary elements but never through the piece as a whole. In the beginning, for example, when the tenor and choir make the premonitions of Christ’s coming and “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed” is sung, we are treated to a sweeping journey through a flora and fauna multimedia display that is genuinely moving. Nicky Spence’s presence and interaction with the choir also provides a sense of drama and gravitas. I also enjoyed Martina Laird’s delivery and P Burton-Morgan’s words immensely, however, it was hard to see how they related to the story of the Messiah. Sadly, it felt as though the best moments were when the show was at its most simple, as much of the additional work is distracting.

Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience ran through 6 December.

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