Spotlight image for 2022 Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

Join us Thursday, December 21, 2023, at 8:00 PM PT to hear our special broadcast of Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Cappella Romana chorus’s performance of Handel’s Messiah.

The 2016 performance was conducted by Gary Thor Wedow and features celebrated vocal soloists Nathalie Paulin, Abigail Levis, Aaron Sheehan, and Dashon Burton.

Tune in at 89.9 FM in Portland or anywhere in the world via our website’s live player.


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) to words compiled from Holy Scripture by Charles Jennens (1700-1773)

  • Gary Thor Wedow, guest director and harpsichord
  • Nathalie Paulin, soprano
  • Abigail Levis, mezzo-soprano
  • Aaron Sheehan, tenor
  • Dashon Burton, bass-baritone
  • Cappella Romana, chorus


By Gary Thor Wedow (Excerpt from complete program notes [2016], edited by Rebecca Richardson)

Messiah as Opera, a wolf in sheep’s clothing

As Handel did, I come from the world of opera and cannot help but look at Messiah as a masterpiece of musical drama.  Handel, at the top of his game and with skills developed over a half-century ago in the opera house, wrote this sublime musical drama, though without many three-dimensional characters and very little action. Drama comes from a Greek word meaning action, and Messiah is notoriously lacking in explicit stage action. Much of Messiah is philosophical thought and reporting about things that had happened—but are not necessarily happening now.

Charles Jennens (1700-1773), the librettist of Messiah, was a close personal friend and supporter of Handel. His libretto for Messiah shows a man both intimately acquainted with the gospel and with a keen sense of narrative and drama. The libretto is laid out as an opera libretto, with scenes and locations—some very concrete (shepherds in a field), others much more abstract (“A Thanksgiving for the Defeat of Death”).

Handel was a master of varying the mood, the tempo, the dynamic, the keys to enhance the drama.  In the theater, librettists juxtaposed scenes to enhance the variety: a bright ballroom preceding a dark dungeon scene; a small inner room preceding an expansive formal garden; all of these transformations done “in the twinkling of an eye” with the amazing Baroque theater machinery.  Oratorio preserved this roller-coaster structure.   

Handel provided the singers in Messiah a panoply of varied arias in which to deploy their far-ranging gifts.  The orchestra paints the dramatic scene as so clearly denoted in Jennen’s libretto; the choice of key, dance form, melodic shape, and rhythmic and rhetorical gesture all surprise and delight.

Handel said that he wrote Messiah not only to entertain, but rather to make his listeners better people; however, to teach one must also entertain. 

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