Hello to the London Coliseum!

November 16, 2009

MARTIN WYATT, Community Ensemble Participant

So it’s goodbye to Lilian Baylis House in West Hampstead, and hello to the London Coliseum. We had our last rehearsal at the ENO’s studios in north London on Saturday, and a very exciting one it was too. We blocked two completely new scenes, and had the joy of being directed for one of them by our magnificent stage manager, Phillip. It’s great to know that the ensemble will be appearing on stage right at the beginning of the show, as we slickly and efficiently construct the setting for Act I during the overture. Phillip drilled us like a benign sergeant-major, until our entrances and exits with beds and bedside tables, ironing boards and clothes airers, benches and lockers were timed to the split-second. And all choreographed to Handel’s magnificent music. 

I confess to having a particular interest in Messiah. For just over two years I have had the pleasure of being the Deputy Director of the Handel House Museum in Brook Street, Mayfair. This is the house in which Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759, and it’s a real thrill to walk on a daily basis through the rooms in which he wrote Messiah.

So when the call came from ENO to take part in this production I didn’t hesitate.  For many years, I have longed to be part of the superb productions I have seen at the London Coliseum. Short of storming the stage, I could not think for the life of me how this might happen. Now the dream is coming true, and from Tuesday I will be treading the boards that I have so long admired from a distance. That I can combine my love and admiration for Handel and his music with my love and admiration for ENO is unbelievable. 

I am really excited about this production. Many Handelians I know are understandably suspicious, and will be even more so if they read this and notice the mention of ‘ironing boards’ and ‘bedside tables’! But what I think is great about what I have seen so far is that this is clearly going to be a Messiah for 21st-century London. That’s why we’re an ensemble community – we are London! 

When Messiah was first performed in London in March 1743 at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden (after its initial performance in the cathedral in Dublin in 1742) there was outrage that the ‘sacred oratorio’ was to be performed in a theatre, with the divine words of God sung by common actors and actresses. The proper place for such a work, it was believed by some, was a church with the words delivered by God’s ministers.

After centuries of being confined to chapel, church, cathedral and concert hall, Messiah is finally coming home to the place where it truly belongs – the theatre, and in a production not fettered by pious sentiment, but one that connects with the daily lives of ordinary people everywhere.


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