Thursday, May 3, 2007
Ya gotta have faith...faith...faith.
Amidst a flurry of grant applications, I have found time today to begin serious creative work on Messiah. Now I'm taking a short break to share some impressions of the experience with you.
First of all it is hard work. Messiah is precious to untold numbers of people and it is with great sensitivity to them and respect to the work that I have started to map out the creative aspects of the production. It is a complicated process with LOTS of issues - not the least of which is deciding which Messiah we are going to perform. Something any producer of Messiah, concert or staged, must confront is that there is no definitive version of the work. For many of the arias and choruses there exist up to five versions all by Handel. This is encouraging for someone trying to stage what is widely, to say the least, considered a purely concerted work. The freedom exists to easily and accurately create a version of Messiah that fits the need of the production. The flip side of this is that it takes a lot of energy, more than it would for a concert version that can base its decisions primarily on the forces available. The dramatic construct must be pretty much in place in order to decide which versions (and even which cuts) need to be taken. Finally I have pretty much solidified the nature of AOT's Messiah.
This double-sided coin of great freedom and the need for great creative energy is quickly becoming a theme with Messiah. For instance, as a "creating" director (versus an "interpreting" director - I wrote an essay on this a while back and perhaps will revisit it and post it on here soon) I have an equation I try to keep in the back of my mind: the greater the intention of universality with a work, the greater the need for abstraction in the production of that work. AOT's Messiah is intended as something deeply universal (I can't in fact imagine a more universal piece...famous last words), and thereby needs a great deal of abstraction in the staging. This might also come from a need to show respect and not trivialize the work, but in any event it means fantastic freedom. Fantastic right?
Well, part of what makes Messiah so wonderful and so easily made universal - and what has made it so popular - is that Jennings selected the texts in such a way that it is rather abstract to start with. There is almost nothing, short of the brief nativity scene, that is taken from the Gospels. The work is extremely malleable to interpretation. But, as with having myriad versions to choose from, this freedom requires exhaustive creative input. There is no when or where here, the who is almost completely abstracted as well. This lends itself to the profoundest of cathartic experiences, but requires so much more from all the artists, and the audience as well, to get that reward.
Messiah, with little doubt, will be the bravest production AOT has yet created. It is with all sincerity that the company embarks on what can only be described as exploration. Hopefully on the other side is a work of great poignancy and timelessness. Just as Messiah is a work about faith (believing in what seems unlikely and impossible and frightening because of a little tiny voice somewhere inside) this endeavor too is a leap of faith and it makes me very proud of this company.
Please, someone out there let me know you read these...