As the orchestra at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Brooklyn struck their first chord, initiating the overture to George Fredrich Handel’s “Messiah,” all eyes left the expansive, opulently adorned walls and focused inwardly. The sounds of love, life, laughter and lyric do not need a visual accompaniment. In fact, anything deviating attention from the heavenly symphony at the cathedral’s fore is almost blasphemous in its inferiority to the pure quality of music reverberating from its luminous walls.
In short, it was heaven.
With hundreds of listeners in attendance, ranging in age and religious beliefs, the concluding performance of the church’s Music Ministry, led by Michael Fontana, closed their thus-far 14-year tradition in a resounding success.
Featuring the Chancel Choir and Orchestra, as well as four superb soloists, the first part of “Messiah” was performed exclusively, leading to a simultaneous elation and desolation for the audience – it was a truly beautiful performance, one they would liked have loved to extend – preferably forever.
“Messiah” opened on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, though was not a success in London until 1750, when an Italian male alto named Gaetano Guadagni joined the cast. It was performed every year thereafter during Lent, according to the Music Ministry.
Part one deals with the prophecies and birth of Christ.
The first to perform was tenor Martin Kugler for the first Accompagnato and Aria, bearing a voice so clear that it scarcely sounds human.
He was followed by bass Bryce Smith, whose powerful vocals were at once captivating and soothing – riveting and serene. It was almost ironic to hear a tessitura traditionally associated with villainy in operas sound so saintly.
Barbara Fusco, a stunning alto, followed, lending her warm timber to the talented troupe; and the closing soloist was soprano Nonie Donato, whose gorgeous, angelic voice would be a benefit to any performance. In fact, an evening consisting entirely of Smith and Donato could easily soothe even the ferocious of fiends.
Complimenting the impressive vocal agility of the choir, Fontana’s own merry prance as the concert’s highly competent conductor added to the solemnly festive ambiance of the occasion.
At the time the final chorus piece presided, a lyrically content wave stood to the presence of the joyful “Hallelujah,” though their ecstasy was understandably ephemeral. After all, it will be an entire year before they are able to hear the prose and pitch of paradise again.