The Messiah, 1741
“In the summer of 1741 Handel, depressed and in debt, began setting Charles Jennens’ Biblical libretto to music at a breakneck speed. In just 24 days, Messiah was complete (August 22 – September 14). It was premiered during the following season, in the spring of 1742, as part of a series of charity concerts in Neal’s Music Hall on Fishamble Street near Dublin’s Temple Bar district. Right up to the day of the premiere, Messiah was troubled by production difficulties and last-minute rearrangements of the score, and the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Jonathan Swift, placed some pressure on the premiere and had it cancelled entirely for a period. He demanded that it be retitled A Sacred Oratorio and that revenue from the concert be promised to local hospitals for the mentally ill. The premiere happened on 13 April at the Music Hall in Dublin, and Handel led the performance from the harpsichord with Matthew Dubourg conducting the orchestra. Dubourg was an Irish violinist, conductor and composer. He had worked with Handel as early as 1719 in London”.
Professional realities come forward, Handel was broke and this was an effort to create income to financially support himself. The libretto is exquisite and working with his friend, it produced a great staged version of a sacred text for a secular audience. The hoopla that surrounded this great work by the Sacred Theology of the day, almost prevented it’s premiere.
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1970’s
“The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place. Some Christians consider these comments, as well as the omission of the resurrection, to be sacrilegious. They also found the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive. At the same time, some Jews said that it bolstered the anti-Semitic claim that the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. The musical was banned in South Africa for being “irreligious.”
Superstar opened at the Palace Theatre in London in 1972, starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus, Stephen Tate as Judas and Dana Gillespie as Mary. It was directed by Australian, Jim Sharman. This production was much more successful, running for eight years and becoming the United Kingdom’s longest-running musical at the time (it was later surpassed by other works but remains the fifth longest-running). During its 20th anniversary, the production featured Paul Nicholas from the original cast as Jesus.”
This is from a different era, and yet the same type denouncements coming betweent the Sacred and Secular.
Pulling all this together, the performing arts is a profession just like any other profession. Do not take it for granted and just expect it to be there without recompense.
I am offering a suggestion here for your consideration dear reader, the next time you see or hear “The Messiah”, imagine flash pots, stage lighting and a staged production in today’s modern world and see if it still inspires you in the way you really want to feel about it. Just remember, this is our source of sustainable income also.