Recreating the spirit of a Mariah-Carey-like Diva in a unique performance of Handel’s Messiah

A unique recreation of a performance of Handel’s Messiah from 1812, which featured the great prima donna Angelica Catalani, is being performed in Portsmouth next month.

More than 200 performers from the University of Portsmouth Choir, Solent Symphony Orchestra, Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, St Mary’s Church Choir and soloists from the Royal College of Music will come together in aid of local musical charities to perform this ‘Pompey Messiah’ on Saturday 18 March at 7pm at St Mary’s Church, Portsea.

Angelica Catalani

Angelica Catalani

The performance, which is part of a research project exploring the reception of diva performance, is based on a discovery by Dr George Burrows, Principal Lecturer in Performing Arts at the University of Portsmouth, of a programme from a distinctive performance of Messiah that was given in Portsmouth in 1812.

The programme contained annotations by an audience member, which document the unusual performance. It shows that Catalani inserted her own party-piece to show off her Maria-Carey-like vocals and that Mozart’s arrangement of Messiah was used.

“The performance in itself is research,” explains Dr Burrows. “We are exploring the tension between the spirit of the 1812 performance and the letter of Handel’s Messiah and trying to capture audience reactions to compare them with those of the past.”

“Handel’s Messiah has always brought people together to make music and support charity. Messiah has been performed in Portsmouth since the later 1700s, when it helped pay for the building of a new church. It brought some of the nation’s best musicians to the city to perform alongside local choirs and instrumentalists and helped establish a series of music festivals.”

“We are going to recreate the large-scale Messiah from 1812, complete with our own Angelica Catalani, Rebecca Silverman. Visiting professionals, university staff, students, alumni and townsfolk will raise their voices and money for good causes, as Messiah did in its time, as we generate new knowledge about diva-performance practices.”

Tickets for the performance (concessions available) can be purchased here or by calling 023 9284 3023.

An exhibition of research for this performance is displayed in Portsmouth’s Guildhall (until 10 March), with an expanded exhibition is available at St Mary’s Church (until 20 March). Read more about the original exhibition here.

Dr Burrows will also give a free lecture on Wednesday 1 March at 4pm in the University’s Eldon Building about his discoveries and he will explain how the concert itself forms part of the research. The talk tells the story of an expanding city, a prima donna that escaped Napoleon disguised as a nun and the evolution of a national culture of massed participation in music making that continues to this day. To book your place, please register via Eventbrite.

The event forms part of the University’s Global Month #weareglobal

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