Handel's Messiah relocated after 82 years in Chapel

Although construction on the Chapel seems like it’ll never end, it will not get in the way of all of Duke’s traditions; the Duke Chapel Choir will perform Handel’s “Messiah” in Page Auditorium this weekend. After 82 years of “Messiah” at Duke, this year is the first in which performances will take place outside of the Chapel. With beautiful music and Christmassy vibes, the “Messiah” will again be a great start to the holiday season—regardless of its location.

“The ‘Messiah’ is a history of the prophecies about Christ’s coming to Earth, the story about what he did on Earth, and about his death and resurrection. It continues into a description of the world at the end of all time,” said Rodney Wynkoop, the director of Chapel music and the conductor for “Messiah.” 

First conducting the “Messiah” in 1989, this year will be Wynkoop’s 26th production of the show. Although the “Messiah” has been performed at Duke for decades, it has not lost its emotional and artistic appeal; hundreds of Duke students and outside community members pack “Messiah” concerts each year. Each show is three hours long, with a fifteen-minute intermission.

“It’s the most well-known production (of ‘Messiah’) in this part of the country,” said Wynkoop.

A tradition for people outside of Duke as well as the Duke community, many families come to “Messiah” as a start to their Christmas season. To make a production so beautiful and meaningful, though, the Choir puts in a lot of hard work.

“We have rehearsal every Wednesday, to go through the anthems that we sing on Sundays. And then, starting pretty early, Dr. Wynkoop will include some movements from ‘Messiah.’ This week we will have two dress rehearsals that are solely ‘Messiah,’” said Judith Leng, a senior that has sung in the Duke Chapel Choir for all four years as an undergraduate.

In addition to regular practice for “Messiah,” the Choir this year has had to adjust its performance to adapt to the new venue. The acoustics in Page Auditorium are different from those in the Chapel, so Wynkoop has worked with the singers to adjust their sound to the space.

“The advantages of doing it in the Chapel are that the sound one makes in the Chapel; it takes a relatively long time to dissipate and to disappear, as the sound is being reflected off of hard surfaces. It tends to sound more alive. It has a way of tying the music all together and making it flow,” Wynkoop said. 

Moving out of the Chapel for a year isn’t all bad, though; the Choir has been flexible during the change, and Page may actually provide better visibility for the performances.

“The Chapel has more space, and can hold more people; but there’s those huge columns where if you’re late for a performance, you can’t see it but you can hear it. Page has a pretty good setting in terms of that because it’s open and has a balcony so you can see from above,” Leng said. 

With positive and negative aspects to both venues, audiences this weekend will be left to judge which they prefer. The audiences will be much smaller than previous years, though; while the Chapel can fit 1400 people, Page Auditorium can only hold 1100 to 1200. Even with a smaller audience, the “Messiah” will have just as great of an emotional connection to both the singers and the spectators.

“I have some attachments to this piece, and I think most of us do after singing it for a long time. One of my friends who graduated last year looked at which grad schools do performances of “Messiah” in the winter,” Leng said. 

A winter tradition not to be missed, the “Messiah” will be performed three times this upcoming weekend. Although not in its traditional venue, the concert will include the great music and meaningful themes that made it so important to Duke in the first place.

“The most common reaction is for people to come up to me afterwards and tell me they had no idea it would be that amazing,” Wynkoop said. 

In a box: Performances of the Messiah will be on December 4th at 7:30 P.M., December 5th at 2:00 P.M., and December 6th at 3:00 P.M. Tickets are on sale at the Duke Box Office


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