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Passion and Paradox: ‘Messiah’ at the cinema 

A dramatised production of Handel’s Messiah will be in cinemas for one night only this Easter (28 March) – and church groups are being encouraged to catch this unique production. Sophie Lister explains more

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Messiah500About Messiah

Messiah is the most popular choral work ever written in English. The music was composed by George Frederic Handel in 1741, over a period of just 24 days. The words were put together from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens, who wanted to create ‘a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief’.

When it was first performed to 18th century audiences many people thought the Messiah was blasphemous. Critics objected to the idea of mixing the sacred and secular worlds where the same theatre might host religious subject matter one day and suggestive comedy the next. Handel was widely censured for insisting that the central Contralto role be sung by the great Susannah Cibber, who was not a classical vocalist but a popular singer and celebrated actress, and a divorcee to-boot.

Over the years, performances of the Messiah in Britain and the United States became more and more grandiose, with one Boston production in 1865 featuring a chorus of over 600. Since then, attempts have been made to return to more intimate productions with a simpler interpretation of Handel’s score.

About this Production

Messiah was first performed at Bristol Old Vic in 1782. Inspired by Handel’s early performances of the work, this staging explores the dramatic heart of the piece, taking as its starting point the bereaved community of a messianic leader and the struggle towards faith that must have confronted them.

Staged by Tom Morris (War Horse) and featuring internationally-renowned soloists Catherine Wyn Rogers and Julia Doyle, The Erebus Ensemble (Songs of Hope) and Europe’s most celebrated Baroque orchestra The English Concert under the revered baton of Harry Bicket, this powerfully accessible dramatised concert is a rare treat for connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike.

CinemaLive is bringing this critically acclaimed production to the big screen to be enjoyed as an Easter tradition, as it was originally intended. This inspirational opportunity will bring together people of faith and fans of classical music to celebrate Handel’s iconic music, in the comfort and convenience of their local cinema.

Get tickets for your group to see Messiah this Easter


You might wish to reflect on these questions after your trip to the cinema, or talk about them with your group.

  • Were you familiar with the Messiah before you saw this production? How did you find the experience of seeing it on the big screen?

  • What did you make of the way that the story told by the music was dramatised? Which moments of the onstage drama were most powerful or memorable for you?

  • How did you react to the portrayal of Jesus in this production? Did anything particularly challenge or surprise you?

  • How might a creative production like this help start fresh conversations about faith? What difference does it make when we experience the Easter story as part of a bigger community?

  • What has the Messiah given you to reflect on this Easter? 

    Sophie Lister is the editor of the Damaris Media blog, where this article first appeared. Read part 2 of the Messiah blog here

Baptist Times, 28/02/2018
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