Georg Friedrich Händel

Georg Friedrich Händel

The Santa Barbara Choral Society, under the baton of artistic director Jo Anne Wasserman, will present a large portion of Georg Friedrich Händel‘s oratorio masterpiece “The Messiah” (1743), with a libretto by Charles Jennens drawn mainly from the King James Bible, 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19 in Hahn Hall, at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road, Montecito.

The quartet of soloists will consist of April Amante, soprano; Tracy Van Fleet, mezzo soprano; Benjamin Brecher, tenor; and Ralph Cato, baritone. We will hear Part 1 — sometimes called the “Christmas” portion — and selections from Parts II and III.

In a sense, we owe “The Messiah” to the stern censors of the Church of England, who would not allow characters from the Bible to be portrayed on stage, an extrapolation, I suppose, from the Calvinistic prohibition of images, not to mention music as part of a church service (Calvin loved music, and said it was one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, but he did not approve of music in church because it distracted from the Word.).

Once Händel’s former patron, the Elector of Hanover, became King George II of England, he reached out to his favorite minstrel and called him to the Court of St. James. Händel arrived in Britain as a successful composer of florid Italian operas, some of which were settings of stories drawn from the Bible.

Because of the aforesaid prohibition, Händel had to invent a new form if he wanted to go on dramatizing religious subjects. To that end, he perfected the oratorio, a kind of unstaged opera, without costumes or action, and made it his own. “The Messiah” represents the purest response to these restrictions: there are no named characters, and there is virtually no dialogue.

Yet, such was the genius of Händel that he managed to create — in this abstract religious space — a drama which, emotionally, outdoes the most extravagant Jacobean tragedy. There are no arias, even in Puccini, more heart-wrenching than “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth,” or more exultant than “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion.”

Many singers I know prefer Händel to all other composers; he is fun and exciting to sing.

Tickets to “The Messiah” are $20 general admission, $10 students, and $50 VIP tickets (VIP ticket entitles buyer to an invitation to reserved theater seating and a private, wine and hors d’oeuvres post-concert reception.) Tickets may be purchased in person at the Hahn Hall box office, or online at

(The Choral Society says Sunday’s show is sold out; and tickets are available for Saturday only.)

All events at Hahn Hall are subject to state, county and other governmental agency COVID-19 pandemic mandates and regulations covering indoor live events. Therefore, in an effort to create the safest possible environment for our guests, patrons of all ages (including children 12 years old and younger) must show proof of being fully vaccinated or supply a negative Covid-19 medical test result (taken within 72 hours prior to each event), along with an official photo ID, before entering Hahn Hall.

Masks are required at all times for all patrons and visitors regardless of vaccination status in all indoor spaces.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at The opinions expressed are his own.