A striking Messiah in Frankfurt with its contrariety and visuality



Premiered in Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen in 2012, Australian director David Freeman’s adaptation of Handel’s Messiah oratorio is staged by Frankfurt Opera this season. I had the chance of watching Handel’s Messiah, which premiered on 27th March of this year, at the evening of 10th April, on the stage of this award-winning opera company of the city, and it was an astonishing show with its unusual theatrical quality, creative video usage, impressive light usage that formed Caravaggio paintings-like contrasts.

David Freeman turned English composer of German origin, G.F. Handel’s greatest work, Messiah to nearly an opera with its setting, costumes and action. As you can guess, he carried the time and place to our day and brought the audience in the middle of a war that is taking place in our day. Even though it is not clear which war in which geographical domain it is, from the fact that Freeman said he was inspired from it while he was thinking about Messiah directing, we can say that he chose Bosnia War which was the home of many slaughters and pain, in Balkan domain. However, don’t assume that the actors of the war and the events that took place in the war were endued on Messiah oratorio or some characterizations were made by the director. Think Freeman’s effort as an independent influence he took from the work and an attempt of adding some theatrical quality to the parts with arias and chorus.

For example, at the beginning of the work, we see inching along, crawling people through the auditorium, who are affected by fear and tedium of the war, are taking shelter in a torn down building that seems to have taken a hit from a bomb, while the overture was played. In the scene which Virgin Mary gives birth to Jesus, the same people throw that intimidation off them and hug each other with joy (a light of hope that will save us can dawn even in the most desperate moments). In the scene of crucifixion of Jesus, before being sent to crucifix, people spit on Jesus’s face, one by one. I have to lay emphasis on the great job that choreographer Julian Moss made.

At the beginning of my article, I’ve mentioned that we’ve seen some scenes resembling the paintings of Caravaggio because of the light-shadow contrasts in Wolfgang Göbbel’s usage of light. Last year, during my Naples visit, I came across an impressive stage performance that I haven’t come across before in a church. It was a half an hour long performance of Neapolitan art students in which they were “freezing” the scenes from the unforgettable paintings of the Italian painter Caravaggio, after a few seconds of preparation time. It wasn’t a coincidence that I remembered this Caravaggio performance in Naples, while watching Freeman’s Messiah dramatization. What we watched on the stage of Frankfurt Opera was not an exhibition of Caravaggio’s paintings, but transferring the recitative-aria and chorus parts of Handel’s Messiah oratorio to the stage as a dramatization. When you read what I try to write down in here, you can remember Bach’s passions that were staged by the famous director Peter Sellers, with the collaboration of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle. However, as I indicated at the beginning, I should emphasize that Freeman’s effort was beyond Sellers’s concept, theatrical-wise.

I cannot praise Wolfgang Göbbel’s usage of light enough. It was mostly his striking light-shadow games that the theatrical quality, which the director tried to perform on the stage, was this effective. We should also applause the tasteful costumes of Louie Whitemore, which were in compliance with the Sahara yellow of the ruined building, not overdone and not claiming to be rags. It was a very interesting fact that Jesus was half naked, wearing only his jeans, during crucifixion, after he faced an oppression and torment.

Photos: Barbara Aumüller

However, in my opinion, what more interesting than crucifying Jesus with his jeans was, a pylon, which was placed on the left part of the stage under Freeman’s direction, functioned as a crucifix. The ‘crucifix’ that was brought forward with an impressing lighting, was one of the most extraordinary visualities of Messiah that had a striking effect on the audience. The moving video projections that were reflected by Lanterna Vision, to the background of David Roger’s building setting, were generally functioning as a more popular means to emphasize what was told on the stage with the choreography, though sometimes they became a bit provocative (one of the videos that was showed in the performance I watched even caused a verbal attack from one of the audience).

Prepared by Tilman Michael, Frankfurt Opera Chorus made a strong impression on the audience with their skilfulness in singing in a large, dynamic area ranging from piano to forte. We listened to many young and very talented soloists. With his deep and good timbre voice, bass Vuyani Mlinde did his hard duty satisfactorily. Tenor Martin Mitterutzner, alto Katharina Magiera, sopranos Elizabeth Reiter and Juanita Lascarro were the elements of crowning the Messiah’s success, with their beautiful voices and successful acting. Surely, we need to highlight the clean playing of Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra (in other words, Frankfurt Opera’s resident orchestra) conducted by Markus Poschner, and Poschner’s delicate conducting that pays attention to nuances. Of course a high level early period music ensemble can create a more refined and smooth interpretation of Messiah, but in my opinion, the orchestra conducted by Poschner succeeded one of the most satisfying Messiah performances that we can listen from an opera orchestra.

David Freeman’s Messiah adaptation can be seen till 4th June 2016 at Frankfurt Opera.

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Serhan Bali, Frankfurt



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