Handel – Messiah / Claus Guth / Vienna, 2009 (3)

(Previous section here.)

So, what about the music?

In a sense, with the way this is set up the thing has to depend very heavily on the music because that is what connects what happens on stage with the text. Neither makes sense without it, and neither, given the presence of the other, can claim to be ‘really’ what this work is about. The effect is to push the audience to pay very close attention to the abstract emotional content of the music.

This clip below is a good example, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth . . .The people that walked in darkness” from Part I.

The set, with the hard chairs and the coffee machine, evokes restless waiting, as do Florian Boesch’s cigarette and foot-tapping in the first moments of the music — and as does the music. There is agitation here, impatience and a little anger, and as the aria “the people that walked in darkness” begins the music and the scene both become genuinely creepy. Creepy is perhaps the wrong word. There is a sense of wrongness about the way this feels, which is enhanced by the entrance of the man who has died (the actor/dancer’s name is Paul Lorenger). He and the angry brother do not appear to be occupying the same space. The former’s gestures suggest confinement and blindness, as do the words of the text. The angry brother does not quite see the dead man, although at one point he finds a button he has left behind. The words are not quite about what is going on here in any direct sense, but the stage action and the text frame the music in such a way that the emotional effect of what you hear is compelling.

Here is a second example, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened . . .He shall feed his flock” again from Part I. The two figures here are the wife of the man who dies (Cornelia Horak) and (this is my reading) his youngest brother (Bejun Mehta). The text is about both an offer of comfort and an injunction or invitation to take on something that will offer comfort and rest. What happens on stage is, again, similar in emotional content, but the specific meaning is not the specific meaning of the text. Or, it is not the literal or intended meaning of the text. There is a bit more moral ambiguity to it in a way that comes up again later in the production.

So. This production deals with the relationship between what happens on stage, the text and the music in what I thought was a really striking way. And the whole thing is done in such a way that the music and the emotions it evokes are necessarily the center of the piece. If you stop and ask what this production is ultimately about, the answer you end up with is one that is not communicable in words — what it’s about is the sequence of emotions in the music for which the text and the staging provide a structure. The production is also fairly neutral in terms of the religious content of an oratorio named The Messiah. It neither requires nor precludes a religious interpretation.

In other words, go and watch this, if you haven’t already.

7 thoughts on “Handel – Messiah / Claus Guth / Vienna, 2009 (3)

      1. button currently pushed, and yes, he does have a very nice voice! am cycling through the clips, really amazing music, can’t go wrong with Handel… still digesting staging


        1. The staging takes some digesting. Even after a lengthy digestive process I’m still not sure I didn’t miss something important. This is one of those productions I think I’ll have to watch over again later.


          1. I’m almost through this. May finish up tonight. What’s striking for me is I’m seeing and hearing music I’ve known all my life and sung on occasion in quite a new way. It’s refreshing and disturbing.


            1. It is – it’s easy (for me, and I bet a lot of others too) to have trouble hearing new things in music that’s so familiar, and this production really helps with that: it makes the familiar unfamiliar again, which is a very good thing.


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