Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
Or to be specific Gregory Batsleer the Artistic Director of Classical Everywhere and conductor of tonight’s Messiah is a very naughty boy. He has taken Handel’s work, a piece of exquisite beauty that to be fair is performed by his musicians to a fabulous standard and wrapped it in the mediocrity of migraine-inducing projections and pretentious dance and poetic add-ones.
The English Chamber Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus, together with the evening’s four soloists are all magnificent and beyond criticism. However, in a ridiculously self-indulgent programme note, Batsleer takes it upon himself to make classical music respond “to the times in which we live”. If this production is an interpretation of making music respond to the present day then Batsleer needs to take a long hard look at himself.
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane may be a work of architectural magnificence, and after Andrew Lloyd-Webbers magnificent refurbishment, a comfortable venue too, but its acoustics do not lend themselves to major choral presentations. And quite why Martina Laird and Arthur Darvill were rolled out, complete with Mad Max costumes, to spout obscure blank verse that they hadn’t even been able to memorise (unlike the magnificent soloists) is a modern Mystery tale,
And then there was Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography, funnelled into a narrow gap between the on-stage orchestra and Drury Lane’s pit. The movement was clearly precisely rehearsed and delivered by talented dancers, but it bore no apparent relevance to Messiah and together with the ghastly projections, served not to complement but to distract from Handel’s genius.
The evening’s musical money-shot was duly delivered with aplomb, as half of the audience rose (almost akin to a pantomime singalong slot) as the other half scratched their heads in bewilderment, to salute the famed Hallelujah Chorus.
This production sees one of the canon’s most magnificent works reduced to a pound-shop opera. A Christmas turkey.