On the heels of Carmina Burana with the State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Choral Society will present one of the holiday season’s highlights with Handel’s Messiah.

Messiah will be performed at The Granada in Santa Barbara at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 805.899.2222.

To honor the region’s first responders and the families who lost their homes in the Tea Fire, the Choral Society is dedicating the weekend’s performances to them, providing free admission and giving them public thanks at the shows. Fire victims can provide their address at The Granada box office for free admission. First responders — including police, sheriff’s personnel, firefighters, highway patrol and Red Cross workers — can contact the box office with their names and agency affiliation to reserve their tickets.

The Choral Society calls this the “best Messiah Santa Barbara has ever heard” for four reasons: Evan Hughes, Julie Davis, Joshua Stewart and Ana Mihanovic — all alumni of the Music Academy of the West who were personally selected by Marilyn Horne as soloists.

They will join the 130-voice chorus and orchestra, under the baton of music director and conductor JoAnne Wasserman, in the performances of Messiah, Part I and selections from Parts II and III.

Bass/baritone Hughes is a Santa Barbara favorite whom Horne calls “one of the shining stars of young artists today.” He was the grand-prize winner of the Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition in 2007 and gave his New York debut recital as part of the foundation’s On Wings of Song series.

Soprano Davis returns to Santa Barbara for the third time, having sung major roles in two recent Music Academy operas, Il viaggio à Reims and The Wedding. She was the first-place winner in the 2007 Metropolitan Opera regional competition in Tulsa and first-place winner of the Naftzger Wichita Symphony competition.

Mezzo-soprano Mihanovic was seen most recently as Diana in the Music Academy of the West production of The Wedding and will be returning to play Michaela in Opera Santa Barbara’s Festival production of Carmen in March.

Tenor Stewart received the 2008 Encouragement Award from the Marilyn Horne Foundation and will appear in recital in the foundation’s On Wings of Song series at Carnegie Hall in January.

Barbara Burger represents the Santa Barbara Choral Society.