In 2009, Handel anniversary year, Claus Guth and his co-authors were looking for situations for their staged version of Messiah in which the subject matter of the oratorio could be portrayed differently from a concert performance. Following painful experiences, a group of people is faced with the biggest questions about human existence: What is guilt? What is the meaning of love? What does death mean? What comes after it? How does one cope with the loss of a loved-one? What is the meaning of redemption?
Handel’s Messiah, first performed in 1742 in Dublin, is based on passages from the Bible compiled by Charles Jennens. The libretto is abstract; unlike Bach’s Passions and the Christmas Oratorio it tells no story. The Messiah
does not appear. Statements made by the prophets in the Old Testament are interpreted in Christological terms and related to Jesus as he is described in the New Testament. He is depicted as the bringer of salvation for whom humankind has waited. The texts’ principal theme is the struggle for faith. Handel’s music turns them into an expansive painting of the “human condition” and finds overwhelming means of expression for human fears and hopes, feelings of guilt, contrition and the joyous certainty of redemption.
A funeral, a baptism, a love story, a suicide, accusations and self-reproach: fragmentary biographies are formed from realistically portrayed scenes that can be read as a kind of family history. The chorus creates a second level, as its formalised gestures form a sharp contrast to the action of the protagonists. A signing soloist and a dancer provide further levels of expression. In this way, the theological vanishing point of Messiah, the Christian message, is linked back to existential experiences from which the work begins to speak anew. After a gap of four years this successful production returns to the Theater an der Wien under the direction of Christophe Rousset and with several new performers.