A gender-inclusive, polytheistic, multi-cultural rendition of Handel’s Messiah is gaining praise from those on the Left for its LGBT imagery and its reimagining of Jesus as a Muslim woman.
The New York Times posted a complimentary story about the rendition, called Messiah: Complex, which was conducted in collaboration between the Against the Grain Theater and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
A 78-minute film of the performance can be streamed on the website of Against the Grain Theater, which calls it a “daring reimagining of Handel's classic featuring voices from across Canada.”
The singers change much of the lyrics, which originally were written by Charles Jennens (1700-1773), a friend of George Frideric Handel. Jennens based the text on Scripture.
“This is not your grandparents’ Messiah,” Spencer Britten, who sings in the film, told The New York Times.
The film opens with Britten, a gay man, singing “No. 2: Comfort Ye My People” as he walks through the Vancouver streets in high heels. The film shows an LGBT Pride flag, an LGBT Pride-painted crosswalk, and other LGBT imagery.
Moments later, an indiginous woman in the Yukon sings “No. 9: O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings,” but tweaks the text, changing “God” to “Creator.” “The Creator is here,” she sings.
Later, a Montreal woman, Rihab Chaieb, sings “No. 23: He Was Despised,” a song that Handel and Jennens wrote specifically about Jesus. But Chaieb changes the text so that it references her Muslim mother, who is seen praying to Mecca in the film. “She was despised; despised and rejected; rejected of men; a woman of sorrows,” Chaieb sings.
The New York Times posted a story about the performance under the headline, “A ‘Messiah’ for the Multitudes, Freed From History’s Bonds.” The newspaper called it an “unabashed celebration of Canadian multiculturalism.”
Messiah: Complex was the idea of Joel Ivany, the founder of Against the Grain Theatre.
“As the Black Lives Matter protests were happening across the world, the silence in the classical music world was deafening, and I thought, ‘What if every soloist in this Messiah was Indigenous, Black or a person of color?’” Ivany told The Times.
National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson criticized the performance and said Messiah: Complex is an indictment on modern times – especially compared to the era of Handel.
“You can hijack medieval Catholic imagery for an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but you can’t really repurpose an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race for anything of any lasting interest, because there isn’t really anything of substance to hold on to there,” Williamson wrote. “That’s why this only happens in one direction: You aren’t going to see a bunch of traditionalist Catholics looking to put a Tridentine spin on Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
“... Can you recite 20 consecutive lines of poetry written by an American in the past 20 years, or name 20 living American poets of any consequence? There is a reason for that,” Williamson wrote. “Messiah, composed in 1741, is going on 300 years old. Is there a single musical work by a North American in our time that we expect to be so nearly universally recognizable in the year 2299?”
Williamson added, “Partisans of the cultural tendency that defines itself in opposition to European Christian civilization broadly understood will, in all likelihood, continue to fail to produce a high culture equal to the achievements of that civilization, even as we moderns excel what we used to call Western Civilization in technology – theirs, Dante, ours, Twitter. It probably will be Christian scholars, a millennium or two hence and perhaps returned to the monastery, who write the definitive history of our high-tech barbarian civilization, poring over old photos of Whoopi Goldberg dressed as a nun and Ricky Gervais posed as Saint Sebastian.”
Photo courtesy: ©AtG YouTube channel screenshot
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.