Claire Nowak

Dance Along With “The Messiah”?

Conductor Paul Goodwin promises a very fresh, dance-like version of Handel’s famous oratorio.

By - Dec 16th, 2014 04:57 pm
Paul Goodwin. Photo by Jan and Magda Bellen.

Paul Goodwin. Photo by Jan and Magda Bellen.

Few are more qualified to conduct George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” than Paul Goodwin. Between playing oboe and conducting orchestras around the world, he has been part of hundreds of “Messiahs.” In 2007, he won the world-renowned Handel Music Prize of Halle an der Saale, Handel’s birth town, for his work performing and researching the German composer.

That also makes him well-qualified to bring a new outlook to such a classic work, which is just what Goodwin will do when he makes his debut with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus this week.

“I go for very much a dramatic interpretation but very dance-based,” Goodwin says. “What we need to do is a lot of articulation and very clear word-based singing and playing.”

“Messiah”’s virtuosic singing parts pose challenges for the chorus, but they are prepared under direction of Lee Erickson. Goodwin plans to use the musicians to bring out Handel’s main characteristics: a liveliness akin to that in dance hall music; a dramatic, operatic feeling present in more than just his operas; and the construction of a piece that has such a clear beginning, middle and end. The combination of those elements, Goodwin believes, makes for a lighter, dance-like interpretation, not the solemn work most people expect. It takes audiences on a journey rather than just letting them sit and take in the music.

“I’m not the person that is reverential about music of the past because in my knowledge of reading about it, they were not reverential about it themselves,” Goodwin says.

Handel even considered it “an entertainment” that presents religious stories rather than a strictly religious work. Goodwin capitalizes on that by working with extremes. Sometimes, he transitions quickly between movements. Other times, he lets the music slow down to intensify the drama.

But that all depends on the performance space as well. Goodwin and the musicians will perform at three different churches: St. Mary Catholic Faith Community in Hales Corners, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and the Basilica of St. Josaphat. He adapts the piece to reflect the reverb and vibe of the environment. He also can change the mood to reflect the audiences’ reactions, whether somber or energetic.

“Depending on the echo and the color of the acoustic, it affects how you articulate the colors you bring out,” Goodwin says, “how you time one number going to the next, all sorts of things like that.”

His familiarity with the piece makes it easy to conduct, but the real challenge for Goodwin is balancing what he wants with what the musicians want. They follow his general direction for each movement, but Goodwin gives them the freedom to express themselves with their individual instruments. So he must adapt to what could be a slightly different performance each day, depending on how the musicians interpret the music.

But that does not tamper with the original work. Handel originally wrote “Messiah” for a small chapel choir in Dublin. He reworked parts of it several times throughout his life, each version getting progressively bigger, because it was such an important work.

“It’s like playing dominos,” Goodwin says. “You knock one piece of it in one direction and it has repercussions throughout the whole structure of the piece and so it’s always going in a different way. The drama is such that different things come out in every performance.”

Though Handel worked with a wide range of musical genres in the piece, from Italian-style operas to religious chamber music, Goodwin says the quality of the work stays at the highest level throughout, only one of the reasons “Messiah” is brought back each year as a Christmas tradition.

“(Audience members) only need to listen to the Hallelujah chorus and that lifts them through the roof to bring them into the holiday spirit,” Goodwin says.

7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at St. Mary Catholic Faith Community and 7:30 p.m. Dec 18 & 19 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Tickets start at $40 and are available online or by calling 414-291-7605. The Dec. 20 & 21 shows at the Basilica of St. Josaphat are sold out.

Home for the Holidays

Florentine Opera Studio Artists. Image by Jeff Zmania.

Florentine Opera Studio Artists. Image by Jeff Zmania.

Intimate, homey, and casual are not words normally used to describe productions from the Florentine Opera. The company is known for visually elaborate operas, such as its recent rendition of “The Flying Dutchman.” But come the holiday season, its artists push for a deeper connection with their audiences with their second annual “Home for the Holidays” concert.

The concert features four studio artists—soprano Julie Tabash, mezzo Lindsay Metzger, tenor Aaron Short and baritone Pablo Siqueiros—singing a collection of holiday carols. The set list includes classics like “O Holy Night” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” sing-alongs with the audience and arrangements by Chorus Master Scott Stewart and pianist Ruben Piirainen. The artists will also perform less traditional classical pieces.

“We try to combine the well-known and also introduce something that (audience members) don’t know,” general director William Florescu says. “What they won’t be expecting is music they’re hearing for the first time, but hopefully will fall in love with.”

Many musical companies offer their own versions of Christmas carols, but Florescu says “Home for the Holidays” has its own niche. A small vocal ensemble can perform a similar repertoire as a large chorus, but with the intimacy of a solo performance.

The Florentine has hosted similar small-scale shows for the past 10 years, which are now categorized under the company’s “@ The Center” series. One of the most popular shows is Carols at Colectivo. Studio Artists perform popular Christmas songs at the coffee shop locations on Humboldt and on the lakefront. “Home for the Holidays” includes elements of that tradition in an expanded program.

Despite its high level of talent, the show has a relaxed vibe, which may come as a surprise to frequenters of the opera. It is meant to make audience members feel comfortable with that style of music while complimenting the work done in the main stage productions.

Florescu will act as a host and emcee, but the real stars are the musicians. “For those who may not have attended a full-length opera yet,” Florescu says, “we want to have, for lack of a better term, an on-ramp into what we do — a very user friendly way to become familiar with the Florentine.”

7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 & 20 at the Wayne & Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center, 930 E. Burleigh. Tickets cost $15 and are available online or by calling 1-800-32-OPERA.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us