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Orange County's Pacific Symphony presents HANDEL'S MESSIAH, 12/13

Handel's Messiah, performed by Pacific Symphony, is perhaps the perfect way take refuge from the hectic pace of the holidays and celebrate the season in a serene and meaningful way. This year, the most famous oratorio in the world is led by British guest conductor William Lacey and features the Pacific Chorale and four seasoned veterans of the opera and solo stages-soprano Christine Brandes, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and baritone Timothy Mix-singing some of the most beautiful music ever written. Taking place on Sunday, December 13 at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the Symphony's annual performance-the first of several holiday concerts-includes blazing trumpets, thundering timpani, the exhilarating "Hallelujah" chorus, and a message of hope in a year of tribulations.

"I love conducting Messiah," says Maestro Lacey, who has led Handel's work regularly over the last 10 years. "The text is so marvelous, and these words have a deep cultural resonance for many of us. Secondly, familiarity never dims the fact that the music is absolutely brilliant and inspired. Are there any choruses more thrilling than these? The final amen is like a cathedral in sound. When I conduct Messiah, I try not to think about tradition too much. I try to read the score in as fresh a manner as possible, and make it new and alive for modern listeners.

"I think Messiah can teach us to be better people," Lacey adds. "It has a wonderfully positive and uplifting message. At the end the bass-baritone sings, 'The trumpet shall sound…and we shall be changed.' When I perform Messiah, I always hope that people will indeed be changed in some way. This joyous music can show us how to live, if we open ourselves to it."

Handel, arguably the most cosmopolitan and versatile theatrical composer of the Baroque period, was born in Germany in 1685, where he trained-but it was in Italy that he achieved mastery and success in every musical genre, before settling for nearly five decades in England. It was during the latter period that he assimilated all of these countries' musical styles and specialized in operas and oratorios. Messiah remains Handel's best-known work, although this was not a status that it enjoyed until the last few years of his life. It was not originally envisaged as a Christmas tradition, but its microcosm of Christian doctrine and faith was intended as a timely thought-provoker for Lent and Easter.

Having lived in the place where Handel spent most of his life, Lacey seems a natural choIce To conduct this year's Messiah. Lacey first studied music at Cambridge's Kings College, where he has conducted operas and other concerts across Europe and North America. His recent European operatic engagements have spanned locales from the Netherlands to Greece to Paris. In North America, Lacey was the staff conductor at San Francisco Opera between 1998 and 2001, and has recently conducted at Houston Grand Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera and New York City Opera. Recent concert appearances include the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, the Orquesta Pablo Sarasate in Pamplona, the Israel Camerata in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

During past seasons, soprano Christine Brandes made her Washington National Opera debut in William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge and returned to the Central City Opera as Maria Corona in Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street. Her concert schedule included performances of Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri with Sir Simon Rattle and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Mozart Requiem with the Handel & Haydn Society, Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Music of the Baroque, Handel's L'Allegro with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Seattle Symphony, and Haydn's Mass in the Time of War with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Her 2009-10 season includes a North American tour of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Chicago's Music of the Baroque and the Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal. The artist also returns to Portland Opera to sing the role of Despina in Così fan tutte.

Mezzo-Soprano Elizabeth Batton has appeared as Sara in Roberto Devereux at the Dallas Opera, Charlotte in Werther with the Kentucky Opera, Maddalena in Rigoletto for the Arizona Opera, and has debuted the roles of Principessa in Mascagni's Il Piccolo Marat at Avery Fisher Hall and Samiro in Ghost of Versailles in St. Louis. In 2009-10 she debuts at L'opera de Montreal in Roberto Devereux and the title role in Britten's Rape of Lucretia with Toledo Opera. In recent seasons, Batton has been heard with the American Symphony Orchestra, Opera North, the National Opera du Rhin in Strasbourg, Utah Festival Opera, New York City Opera, the Orlando Opera and in the role of Lady Essex in Central City Opera's North American premiere of Britten's Gloriana.

Tenor Benjamin Butterfield's operatic repertoire has encompassed roles in the Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Rake's Progress, Persephone, Cunning Little Vixen and Tamerlano with performances in Naples at Il Teatro di San Carlo, Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse, Welsh National Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, L'Opera Nationale de Montpellier and Arizona Opera, as well as New York City Opera, L'Opera de Montreal, Vancouver Opera, Glimmerglass Opera Festival, and Canterbury Opera in New Zealand. In concert, he has appeared in Britten's War Requiem with the London Symphony Chorus and the State Orchestra of Thessaloniki, and the St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He has toured throughout Europe, and has also performed with the symphony orchestras of Detroit, San Francisco, New Jersey and Chicago.

Recipient of a 2008 Richard Tucker Foundation Career Grant, baritone Timothy Mix received critical acclaim for his pivotal role as Edward Gaines in the New York premiere of Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner, for which he received New York City Opera's 2008 Christopher Keene Award. During the 2009-10 season, Mix makes his Washington National Opera debut as Ford in Falstaff, as well as his San Francisco Opera debut in La Fanciulla del West. He also sings his first performances with Arizona Opera as Marcello in La Bohème, brings his Belcore to Toledo Opera's L'elisir d'amore and joins Opera Southwest as Escamillo in Carmen.

Tickets are $25-$105. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Symphony ticket office at (714) 755-5799, or visit www.pacificsymphony.org.


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