Earlier this year, the NSO asked the Cathedral Choral Society to perform Messiah with them this December. No problem, we said. A few months later, the NSO told us they'd chosen a guest conductor for the performances, a German named Bruno Weill. Swell, we said. A soon after that, they told us that Maestro Weill wanted it sung in German. And we said, huh?
Maestro Weill had decided he wanted to perform the Mozart arrangement of Messiah, which features a German translation of the libretto, which was originally written in English. The Mozart arrangement very popular back in the day, but fell out of favor during the twentieth century. Nowadays, Messiah is almost always performed in English, even when using the Mozart arrangement.
Nevertheless, Maestro Weill wanted to do it in German. The chorus was not enthusiastic about it, not was our music director, but the NSO insisted that it was the conductor's prerogative, and if Weill wanted it sung it German, then in German it would be sung.
For my own part, I had decided to not sing it. For one thing, I don't like singing in German. I just think it's an ugly-sounding language. Also, by not singing Messiah, I could leave rehearsals at 9:00 instead of 10:15. That's always a good thing. But not all my reasons were selfish. I was thinking of the audience. Some people might be interested in hearing Messiah in German once, in the summer, just for the novelty factor. But no one wants to hear Messiah in German in December, the week before Christmas. Well, there may be a few, but not many. And since the NSO didn't seem to be advertising that it would be sung in German, people would have shown up for the concert expecting it to be in English, and would rightly be furious on learning that it was in German. And I didn't feel comfortable being part of that.
However, I did indicate on the sign-up sheet that I would perform the Messiah concerts if it were sung in English. I mean, why pass up a chance to sing at the Kennedy Center?
Yesterday an e-mail went out on the CCS listserve, announcing that a) we would now be singing it in English, and b) the performances would now be conducted not by Bruno Weill, but by J. Reilly Lewis, the CCS music director. It would be interesting to know how this came about. Did the NSO, fearing low ticket sales, insist that it be sung in English, causing Weill to pull out in protest? Or did Weill pull out for personal reasons, allowing Reilly to choose to have it sung in English? Regardless, I said I would do it if we did it in English, so I'm doing it. Should be fun!