All We Like Sheep: H+H’s “Messiah”

Georg Friederich Händel’s Messiah
Presented by Handel + Haydn Society
Performed by Harry Christophers, conductor
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Emily Marvosh, contralto*
James Way, tenor
Roderick Williams, baritone
H+H Orchestra and Chorus

November 26, 27, & 28, 2021
Boston Symphony Hall
301 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
H+H on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — We were granted tickets to Handel + Haydn’s Messiah. It was lovely: the orchestra was in good form on their period instruments; the choir sang in four voices with rich purity; the soloists were attuned to the orchestra. It was a nice afternoon at the symphony. Our first since the quarantine.

In the program, H+H included a note: “We regret to announce that countertenor Reginald Mobley has been forced to withdraw from this week’s performances due to illness. We are pleased to announce that contralto Emily Marvosh has graciously agreed to take his place.”

Mobley has an exquisite voice. It is no small thing for a classical singer to cancel a performance due to illness. We remember feeling like the world was ending when we occasionally had to do it as an opera student. We hope Mobley receives the care he needs and feels better soon.

Emily Marvosh is also an excellent musician. It is a shame that we had to hear her under these circumstances, but we are glad that we did. She performed with calm and poise, and she had a firm grasp of the text and music. She was delightful. 

What’s more, Marvosh appeared to be the only vocalist who sincerely wanted to be in Boston Symphony Hall on Saturday afternoon. All of the soloists were glorious when they were singing but only Marvosh looked 100% invested in the Messiah when she wasn’t. The choir might have been writing its collective grocery list on another planet: cat litter, moon apples, plutonian panko flakes. 

We can still see you when you aren’t singing. Come on, guys, we know that you know this. We spend too much time trying to convince plebes that classical music isn’t boring. You’re making the argument more difficult. 

It could very well be that the soloists and the choir had a mass case of bitchy resting face – which is fine offstage, you do you – but onstage, it is important to at least pretend like you are enjoying yourself. Otherwise, why should any of us be there?  

Artistic director and conductor Harry Christophers was having the time of his life leading the Messiah. He had a huge smile plastered on his face. There was literal, factual dancing in seats during the “Hallelujah” Chorus. That was so cool! Who knew Messiah could be cool? This geek.  

Performers should work as hard as the conductor, no less. If Christophers’ is leading an orchestra, choir and soloists and still smiling, then everyone else should be alert.

You don’t need to smile like Christophers but it would help if everyone looked like they wanted to be there when they weren’t the center of attention. Orchestra, too. 

Christophers looks so happy here. It’s infectious. Image via H+H Facebook page.

We spent a long, cold, terrified quarantine wishing we were performing. Classical music is way too competitive to let a bitchy resting face trip up your career. Someone who has practiced their happy resting face is ready to take your place at a moment’s notice.

The collective diction of dental consonants from soloists and choir was excellent. The sibilant esses need shortening. 

Bitchy resting faces aside, it was a pleasant afternoon in downtown Boston; H+H knows how to put on a concert. The bathroom lines moved swiftly. Everyone was masked and cordial. The Hall was resplendent.     

There is a lot of whiteness in H+H. This copy has some diversity work to do. It’s not enough to hire Black soloists. The company has to enrich its spaces so it is safer for BIPOC to perform with the choir and work in its administrative offices.

If you missed the Messiah this November, Handel + Haydn has oodles of other streaming and viewing opportunities! Check out its website for more info: https://handelandhaydn.org

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