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English National Opera Sings Hallelujah

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John Berry John Berry | 16:48 UK Time, Tuesday, 13 October 2009

messiah_eno.jpgWalking along the street at the weekend in my home town of Lewes I bumped into John Hancorn who conducts the East Sussex Bach Choir. An enthusiastic conversation ensues about Sing Hallelujah. It seems Lewes will be doing something special on Dec 13th, and I hope something radical such as the downloadable Gospel version from the Sing Hallelujah site, which will reflect the true spirit of Lewes, a town known for shaking up the establishment.

They will be joined throughout the autumn by the dozens of choirs from all over the UK who have now signed up to the Sing Hallelujah site. We hope that every size and shape of community choir will want to get involved; check out Karl Daymond's Male Voice Choir in Chepstow for a performance starting on Dec 6th at 1759, the exact year of Handel's death, and also Karl's Singing Club, none of whom read music but will sing a unison version of the melody. Really anyone can join in, no matter what level of singer you are or what knowledge of music you have.
 
This exciting collaboration between English National Opera and the BBC has so far been a joy with both organizations hungry to reach out to new audiences and widen the appeal of classical music. Our joint BBC/ENO teams are beavering away planning the Glasgow and London live events and I feel it is really building up steam with some wonderful content for the website to be unveiled in the next few weeks.
 
Today I have talked through the designs for ENO's production of Messiah with director, Deborah Warner. Hot on the heels of her provocative new production of Brecht's Mother Courage at the National Theatre, Deborah and her team are now putting the final touches to their concept and looking forward to the first day of rehearsals. The stunning designs are being created by Tom Pye, and with a wonderful cast, led by tenor John Mark Ainsley, the ENO Orchestra and Chorus and the conducting of Handelian expert Lawrence Cummings, I feel sure that we are in for a treat.
 
Handel was the most versatile theatrical composer of the baroque period and many of his oratorios have a dramatic narrative hence the rich history of oratorio stagings over the last 10 years. 
 
Key to Deborah's concept for the production is an amateur community group of actors drawn from Westminster and representative of a contemporary urban community. Our staging of Messiah and the Sing Hallelujah project are all about community, the joy of singing together, the thrill of participating, challenging the preconceptions that the place for Handel's Messiah is in church, a scriptural oratorio exclusively for a Christian tradition. In fact the annual Christmas performances of Messiah came about because Handel would conduct the work to raise money for charity. It has over the years, after what must be millions of performances, and with the great Hallelujah Chorus, become Handel's most celebrated work. There can be no better way to end a year of celebrations for this great composer than by coming together to hear, learn and sing this wonderful work.

John Berry is artistic director of English National Opera

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