We’re thrilled to be working with event cinema experts CinemaLive in bringing Handel’s Messiah from Bristol Old Vic to cinemas across the UK and Ireland. This dramatised production, in cinemas for one night only (Wednesday 28th March 2018), retells the Easter story in a striking new way.
Messiah is the most popular choral work ever written in English. The music was composed by George Frederic Handel in 1741, over a period of just 24 days. The words were put together from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens, who wanted to create ‘a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief’.
When it was first performed to 18th century audiences many people thought the Messiah was blasphemous. Critics objected to the idea of mixing the sacred and secular worlds where the same theatre might host religious subject matter one day and suggestive comedy the next. Handel was widely censured for insisting that the central Contralto role be sung by the great Susannah Cibber, who was not a classical vocalist but a popular singer and celebrated actress, and a divorcee to-boot.
Over the years, performances of the Messiah in Britain and the United States became more and more grandiose, with one Boston production in 1865 featuring a chorus of over 600. Since then, attempts have been made to return to more intimate productions with a simpler interpretation of Handel’s score.
About this Production
Messiah was first performed at Bristol Old Vic in 1782. Inspired by Handel’s early performances of the work, this staging explores the dramatic heart of the piece, taking as its starting point the bereaved community of a messianic leader and the struggle towards faith that must have confronted them.
Staged by Tom Morris (War Horse) and featuring internationally-renowned soloists Catherine Wyn Rogers and Julia Doyle, The Erebus Ensemble (Songs of Hope) and Europe’s most celebrated Baroque orchestra The English Concert under the revered baton of Harry Bicket, this powerfully accessible dramatised concert is a rare treat for connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike.
CinemaLive is bringing this critically acclaimed production to the big screen to be enjoyed as an Easter tradition, as it was originally intended. This inspirational opportunity will bring together people of faith and fans of classical music to celebrate Handel’s iconic music, in the comfort and convenience of their local cinema.
You might wish to reflect on these questions after your trip to the cinema, or talk about them with your group.
- Were you familiar with the Messiah before you saw this production? How did you find the experience of seeing it on the big screen?
- What did you make of the way that the story told by the music was dramatised? Which moments of the onstage drama were most powerful or memorable for you?
- How did you react to the portrayal of Jesus in this production? Did anything particularly challenge or surprise you?
- How might a creative production like this help start fresh conversations about faith? What difference does it make when we experience the Easter story as part of a bigger community?
- What has the Messiah given you to reflect on this Easter?
Hear from the creative team behind this unique production – watch our for our series of blog posts being published over the next few weeks.
Find out what producer Alison Hargreaves had to say about emotional audiences, the challenges of exploring faith, and casting ‘rockstar’ Jamie Beddard as Jesus.
‘We’ve had people telling us they’ve seen a new layer to the human struggle behind Christ’s life, death and resurrection – that it answered some of their questions on an emotional level.’
Director Tom Morris OBE won a Tony Award for his work on War Horse. We spoke to him about dramatising Messiah, and the paradoxes he sees in Christian belief.
‘I think there can be an assumption that if you believe in something your natural state of mind is peace and certainty. But I think there are lots of people whose experience of belief is one of struggle.’
We spoke to John Travers, Head of Distribution at CinemaLive, about bringing the Messiah to a cinema screen near you.
‘With event cinema you’re usually looking for a star, a name brand or lead actor. But with this production there are no stars – we just knew there would be a passionate audience for something which was asking questions about faith.’
You can read part 2 here. Look out for parts 3 and 4 of our Messiah blog series over the next few weeks
Sophie Lister is the editor of the Damaris Media blog