Pro Cantare's 'Messiah' is an 'epic' show

The Baltimore Sun

The time has come to take a break from the frenzy of holiday shopping and enjoy Columbia Pro Cantare's annual performance of Handel's Messiah at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Jim Rouse Theatre. Even if you have been before, it's worth going again.

Director Frances Motyca Dawson urges residents to "unplug digital devices and background music, and come be a part of the retelling of the Christmas story. There's no substitute for showing up for a performance; you become part of this epic story."

Pro Cantare's 115 choral singers, chamber orchestra, and soloists soprano Amy van Roekel, mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski, tenor Mark Schowalter and baritone Lester Lynch all join forces for the performance of Handel's popular oratorio.

Dawson has never aimed to re-create a historically accurate performance with period instruments; for one thing, the size of her chorus dwarfs Handel's much smaller ensemble of 24 at Messiah's Dublin premiere in April 1742.

However, what she shares in spirit with the composer is the challenge of working with what's at hand and shaping the performance to suit both cast and score.

Even for the first performance of Messiah, Handel transposed, rewrote, or eliminated some of the oratorio's most well-known arias, including, "But who may abide the day of his coming" and "Rejoice greatly" to accommodate the varying abilities of his soloists.

At this year's Pro Cantare's performance, these virtuoso arias will be presented intact. Dawson reports that soprano Van Roekel's roulades in "Rejoice greatly" are "hell on wheels - no one can sing that aria as fast as she can."

But trying to get more than 100 singers to tread lightly in delicate, rapid passages is another matter altogether. Even for those who have sung this piece many times before, "this score has its challenges," Dawson acknowledges. She encourages them to "give the impression of lightness" and to save the bigger sound for the "grand moments," where drama and heft are more appropriate.

Those wishing to learn more about "Messiah" can attend the pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. given by Eileen Soskin, Peabody Conservatory's associate dean for academic affairs. Tickets for Sunday's concert are $23, $20 for seniors and students. Ticket prices are $2 more at the door. For tickets and information, call 301-854-0107 or 410-799-9321, or visit

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