‘Messiah’: Holiday classic with fresh approach, featured soloists

Dayton Performing Arts Alliance presents show at the Schuster Center on Wednesday.



It’s well known George Frideric Handel wrote “Messiah” for Easter but since its 1742 debut it has morphed into a staple of the year-end holidays. That’s true for Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, presenting its annual Handel’s “Messiah” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Chorus and featured soloists at the Schuster Center in Dayton on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

Kathleen Clawson, who became the artistic director for Dayton Opera before the 2021-2022 season, understands the appeal.

“As a classical singer, ‘Messiah’ is a part of every December, sometimes November, every year,” she said. “I’ve sung ‘Messiah’ many, many times in my life, happily so. As an audience member it was always a part of my holiday celebration with my family. We were either participating or in the audience at least once a year. I’m sort of well-known in my family for going, ‘Is July too soon to start playing Christmas music?’ As soon as my family could stomach it, it was one of the songs that was on repeat. I dearly love it and I look forward to it every year.”

An everchanging program

As a fan, Clawson gets why standard repertoire like “Messiah” is held in high regard. In her role with Dayton Opera she also believes it’s vital to find fresh approaches to classic pieces. She credits Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s artistic director Neal Gittleman with having the ability to reimagine this holiday program each year.

“It’s not Christmas for me until I’ve heard ‘Messiah’ but you do want to make it different every year,” Clawson said. “Neal doesn’t do the whole ‘Messiah’ and, frankly, I’m grateful for that. It’s a really long song. I’ve heard the whole thing before and it’s OK, but I love that he mixes it up and changes some of the choruses and solos.

“That’s going to be different every year,” Clawson continued. “Then I also try to make sure we have a new group of soloists every year. If this ‘Messiah’ concert is part of what you do during the holidays, it’s still going to be a little bit different every year.”



The soloists

The featured soloists for this holiday program, Adia Evans (soprano), Tessa Fackelmann (mezzo-soprano), Dylan Davis (tenor) and Ben Brady (bass), were selected by Clawson. In addition to her job with Dayton Opera, the Albuquerque native has been with the Santa Fe Opera for 23 years. She is the associate director of Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Singer Program and director of the Young Voices of the Santa Fe Opera.

“I’m really excited about the quartet we have singing as soloists,” Clawson said. “I’d say Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Singer Program is the most prestigious apprentice program in the country. I hear 42 of the best singers in the country every summer. I keep track of them in my mind. I also have an actual database of singers too

“Not only do I hear them but I spend the summer with them, so I get to know their voices really well,” Clawson continued. “I get to know them as people and I get to see what they’re like in the heat of the battle as it were. I’ve been bringing a lot of those singers to Dayton. All four of the soloists for this concert are singers I met through the Santa Fe Opera program. It’s really an illustrious group.”



Adia Evans (Soprano)

“I heard Adia and worked with her last summer,” Clawson said. “While I was working with her, I asked her if she sang ‘Messiah.’ She said, ‘Yes,’ so I asked her to send me a recording. She did and I sent it to Neal and said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Absolutely,’ so we hired her. She just returned from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. She was one of 11 finalists and the only American that was a finalist in that competition. She’s going to join the Lyric Opera of Chicago ensemble next year, which is really exciting.”

Tessa Fackelmann (Mezzo-Soprano)

“I met Tessa in Santa Fe,” Clawson said. “I liked her so much I hired her to be one of our artists in residents here at Dayton Opera this fall. She sang with Dayton Ballet’s ‘Dracula: Bloodlines’ and was in our production of ‘Sweeney Todd.’ She’s really quite extraordinary and Handel is really in her wheelhouse. She does that music very, very well.”

Dylan Davis (Tenor)

“Our tenor soloist, Dylan, is an Ohio native,” Clawson said. “He’s from Marion and lives in Columbus however I met him when he was in Santa Fe in 2022. I filed him away as possible tenor soloists for ‘Messiah’ because I knew he did it. He’s been in New York this past year working as a singer in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, which is frankly one of the best jobs in show business. He’s getting ready to go to the Sarasota Opera in 2024.”

Ben Brady (Bass)

“I also met Ben the bass baritone in Santa Fe in 2022,” Clawson said. “He was back this past summer and I instantly said, ‘This man is going to be a star.’ I hired him last year to be Fafner in our production of ‘Das Rheingold.’ He was recently Judge Turpin in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ This will be Ben’s debut doing ‘Messiah’ with the Dayton Philharmonic.”

A bigger room

Another recent change to this annual holiday concert was a change of venue. Coming out of the coronavirus lockdown, Dayton Performing Arts Alliance decided to move the event from its longtime home at Westminster Presbyterian Church to the Schuster Center.

“Westminster is a much smaller venue,” Clawson said. “We moved to the Schuster Center during COVID so people could be spaced out. Then we found out more people wanted to attend than Westminster could handle, as it were, ha, ha. We do have tickets to sell so don’t be shy. There’s room for everybody.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.

How to go

What: Dayton Performing Arts Alliance presents Handel’s “Messiah” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Chorus and featured soloists

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13

Cost: $23.50-$88.50

More info: 937-228-3630 or www.daytonlive.org

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