'Tis the season for Columbia Pro Cantare's 'Messiah'

Mezzo-soprano Mary Ann McCormick is one of the many soloists that appeared in "Messiah" last year and is back for the Dec. 2 performance.
Mezzo-soprano Mary Ann McCormick is one of the many soloists that appeared in "Messiah" last year and is back for the Dec. 2 performance.(Submitted photo)

It wouldn't be the Christmas season without George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," and in Howard County that means a performance by Columbia Pro Cantare on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theater at Wilde Lake.

"Handel's 'Messiah' arrives every December and has a worldwide and fabulously successful run," Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson says about this 18th-century oratorio's widespread appeal.


"It has a sense of theater and of great drama. Handel came out of opera, and when he turned to writing oratorios that sense of drama never left him. There is a very special quality to the music that continues to delight the ear, mind and heart."

That explains why Dawson's group has performed "Messiah" every year since 1984.

"It's a great piece of music and I never get tired of doing it," Dawson notes with enthusiasm. "The performers come inspired, because they love doing it. You try to look at it with fresh eyes. It's not necessarily anything the audience will notice, but there are interpretive things."

The edited version of "Messiah" done annually by Columbia Pro Cantare has a running time of approximately two hours. It features the oratorio's Christmas section and portions of Parts II and III. Hearing the Resurrection-themed final section is a reminder of why performances of the work originally were done at Easter and only later became a Christmas tradition.

A local tradition of sorts involves the soloists: soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick, baritone Lester Lynch and tenor Mark Schowalter. With the exception of Schowalter, this is the same lineup of soloists that appeared in "Messiah" last year; for that matter, Schowalter was among the soloists for it in 2008, so everybody is coming back for more.

These soloists have extensive credentials with prestigious companies around the country.

Van Roekel has performed with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, Master Chorale of Washington, National Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia and American Opera Projects in New York City. She recently appeared in two new operas: Stephen Schwartz's "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and Iannis Xenakis' multimedia "Oresteia," which was performed in ancient Greek at the Miller Theater in New York City.

McCormick has sung with groups including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and Boston Symphony.


Lynch, a renowned Verdi baritone, has enjoyed many appearances with the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera and other companies. Schowalter's appearances include the Metropolitan Opera, Boston Symphony and National Symphony.

Backing these soloists at the upcoming performance will be the Columbia Pro Cantare Festival Orchestra, organist Henry Lowe and trumpeter Susan Rider.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs "Messiah" on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theater at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. There is a preconcert lecture by Dr. Barbara A. Renton at 6:30 p.m. and a post concert reception. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance; $25 and $22, respectively, at the door. Call 410-799-9321 or go to http://www.columbiaprocantare.org.