When "Messiah" was first performed in Dublin in 1742, a crowd of 700 filled the hall. Slightly more than 2,000 filled the Naval Academy chapel last weekend for each of two performances of Handel's masterpiece.
They were treated to the sounds of two rising vocal stars, a world-renowned Metropolitan Opera bass, the combined choruses of the Naval Academy and Hood College, and members of the Annapolis symphony, joining in the 50th anniversary performances of Handel's "Messiah."
For James Morris, the bass, singing at the academy fulfilled a dream.
"I finally get to come to the Naval Academy," he said before Sunday's performance.
Morris is a former Peabody Conservatory classmate of John Barry Talley, chairman of the musical activities department at the academy. Talley knew of Morris' interest in the academy and invited him to sing.
It was Morris' first visit to Annapolis, but it was the 25th time Talley had conducted the work at the chapel.
"Conducting the 'Messiah,' combines the most joyous aspects of making music to such a highly appreciative audience," he said.
Joining Morris were tenor Daniel Hendrick and soprano Wendy Nielsen. To streamline the performance, Tally didn't hire an alto soloist.
The performance, which was taped for broadcast on Maryland Public Television, had to be completed within an hour, and costs had to be held down.
An alto has little to sing in the traditional Christmas section of the oratorio, Tally explained. "It would've cost $500 a note for the entire performance."
The soloists he did hire performed admirably, especially in the difficult scale patterns.
Morris displayed fine range, with particularly clear high notes. Hendrick sang beautiful head tones. Nielsen had a wonderful stage presence, and her singing was flawless.
The festival-sized chorus created magic. The tenors were especially strong in the "Hallelujah" chorus, nailing the high A.
Members of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra played beautifully. Philip Spletzer, concert master, and Suzanne Orban, principal cellist, had particularly exquisite tone quality.
The academy's 1996 performance of "Messiah" was truly outstanding. You can enjoy it again at 9 p.m. Monday on most MPT stations.
Pub Date: 12/20/96