Winter is not the usual performance time in Australia for the Messiah. Handel’s great choral work is usually rolled out at Easter or before the Christmas break.
But for Canberra counter tenor and choral director Tobias Cole, who is lining up for his “30-somethingth” Messiah, mid-winter will make for an even more pointed experience when the Canberra Symphony and CSO Messiah Choir take to the stage on 8 and 9 July.
Cole, preparing the choir and one of four soloists, says the new season brings with it some changes for performers and ticket-holders.
He says coming in out of the cold in what has been a particularly bitter winter, especially with the world in such tumult, will invoke very different responses.
“We’ll have new resonances,” Cole says. “I think there’ll be one of hope which will come out, and people will be reminded of humanity and the important things in life because there’ll be 80 or so performers on stage rejoicing in this music.”
Soprano Chloe Lankshear will be one of four soloists. Photo: CSO.
Cole says the Messiah remains a deeply spiritual work that continues to move people with its themes of the individual versus society and the promise of redemption.
He says Handel responded to the words of librettist Charles Jennens who put his heart and soul into the work.
“It was really a political statement,” Cole says. “He was trying to resist this push in society or in theological circles towards getting rid of the idea of mysticism and spirituality.”
Beyond that, the work is Handel at his best – a composer by then well versed in the English oratorio, a master of the solo voice and undoubted talents for the chorus.
Cole says the experience of being on stage when the orchestra and choir is in full song is incredibly thrilling but the intimate quieter moments of the soloists have their own power.
“Another great thing about Handel is that he is not afraid to pare things down to two or three parts playing together, and that kind of dialogue is usually contrasting and electric when everyone is tuned into it,” he says.
Cole will be joined on stage by guest artists Chloe Lankshear (soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and Adrian Tamburini.
Goodwin recently appeared in Music for Ukraine, a collaborative fundraiser of the CSO, the Canberra International Music Festival and the ANU School of Music.
Tamburini joined the CSO on stage in 2021 for Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, conducted by Jessica Cottis.
Conducting will be Anthony Hunt, Head of Music and Chorus Master at the State Opera of South Australia.
“Handel’s great gift to us is the humanity of his music,” says Hunt, who will make his CSO debut on the podium.
“Messiah has this wonderful sense of being ‘for the people’,” he says. “It’s impossible not to be swept up in it.”
The CSO Messiah Choir will comprise vocalists from the ANU Chamber Choir, which Cole directs, with guests from other ensembles.
For more details about the show and tickets, visit the CSO website.