TOM Morris’s first Bristol Proms came to a triumphant end on Saturday with a “stage managed” production of Handel’s oratorio Messiah, performed by the Southbank Sinfonietta, the Erebus Ensemble, five solo singers and actor Tristan Sturrock.
These proms had rules, aimed at taking the audience back to the time when music was performed as frequently as plays at the Old Vic in King Street. The audience should applaud whenever they felt like it, no-one should say “shush” and there was no need to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus, all adding to the spontaneity and informality of the occasion.
But the power of this very familiar work, as has happened in recent Bach Passions, was so intensified in the semi-staged performance that this audience listened in rapt attention as the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, trial, crucifixion, death and rebirth unfolded in vivid aural and visual detail.
The production, directed by Tom Morris and conductor Simon Over, reflected the first performance of Messiah in the theatre in the 1780s.
Young chorister Toby Yapp rose out of the auditorium to sing the role of the new born Messiah, and was handed across the audience up onto the stage.
The thrilling voices of Neal Davies, Caroline MacPhie, Andrew Tortise and Catherine Wyn-Rogers were joined by those of the young singers of the locally-based Erebus Ensemble.
Tristan Sturrock, described in the programme as The Teacher, lay motionless until his “resurrection”, opened the second part washing the feet of the on-stage audience, and was then suspended for the crucifixion.
Tom Morris told the audience that the work was about belief, and urged them to think about what it meant to find that the one thing in which you most believed was dead, and to take hope and inspiration from that moment.
There was no-one, no matter what religion they followed or none, who could not understand that emotion.
The Bristol Proms have been another example of the excitement, scope and richness of artistic life in the city, and should set a pattern for music at the Old Vic for many years to come.