I decided I would condescend to the inexorable call of Christmas by attending one of the great Passiontide musical works, entirely consistent with my total indifference to the veracity of the story it tells.
I booked my seat only 48 hours beforehand, but in between my booking and the performance, the main attraction, Carolyn Sampson, cancelled due to illness. If I had been in a different mood, I might have decided not to go after all, but I thought 'It's Messiah. What could possibly go wrong?'
These days, when you someone says or writes 'What could possibly go wrong?', it's usually a wise-after-the-event knowing warning of tales of doom and disaster. And, certainly, when I was unable to get into Victoria underground station and was wandering Victoria Street in the sleet, with less than an hour before the overture, I did wonder whether it was meant to be.
But I got there with sufficient time, and it turned out to be an enjoyable evening. Not a classic, not something I'll remember for ever. But a good, dependable Messiah from the ever-excellent Sixteen under Harry Christophers. I do like the Sixteen but I do wonder about their recruitment policy. All the women, choir and orchestra, are thin and almost all of them are young. There may be rational reasons - connected with touring perhaps - that explains their youth, but I do wonder if body-fascism is at play.
I am a sucker for the interpretation given by an early music ensemble such as The Sixteen. I love the delicate touches that are brought out, and I'm not really sure that I could bear the large scale symphony orchestra-style Messiah I grew up on.
Of course, if you attend a Messiah in December, even in London, you're not going to get a star-studded cast, and we didn't! A good solid reliable set of regular Messiah singers. Sophie Bevan was the stand-in soprano. I've heard her a few times now. She's good and possibly she could go a long way. I first heard her about five years ago when she was still at college, so I guess she's still in her twenties. It was a shame for me that Carolyn couldn't make it; in her absence Sophie was fine.
I was pleasantly surprised by James Gilchrist. I like him in several recordings I have, but he's never just done it for me live, so it was delightful to hear such a convincing and powerful performance. I also thought Christopher Purves gave a good performance.
I simply don't like Catherine Wyn Rogers . I don't want to spoil other people's pleasure and I certainly don't want to be to cruel to a singer who is clearly a committed and presumably hard-working performer. I simply don't like the way she emphasises her words; it makes me think she doesn't really know what they're about, and so I don't care. And she bored me during He was despiséd, which is not good. Thankfully, the orchestra was sublime!
It was a pleasant Messiah and the highlight of the evening was seeing Ian McKellen in the audience. I know it's a bit silly getting so excited at a celeb-spot-from-a-distance. But when it's a legend! Well!