Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

May 16, 2014

It’s been a good year for events in Sydney so far. With Elektraredefining how opera in the concert hall might work, the best Handa Opera to date and now this, a grand choral spectacular that turned the clock back to the heyday of Victorian England.

Mendelssohn’s epic oratorio was written in the spirit of Bach and Handel’s musico-dramatic works for the Birmingham Festival in 1846 by a composer devoted to the works of both of those illustrious predecessors. Unlike the tendency of our own time, which is to scale works down to a few voices per part, the Victorians were fans of going to the opposite extreme. As far as they were concerned it was the more the merrier, and in the case of Elijah, the mightier.

It was a huge hit, and went on to become a staple of English choral societies for the next 150 years. At his best, Mendelssohn prefigures the likes of Parry (listen to Yet doth the Lord see it not). At his most rum-ti-tum it’s more like Sullivan ( Baal we cry to theecould be out of The Martyr of Antioch). Historical curiosity – after Mendelssohn’s premature death...