Metro Morning

Reaching new audiences and cultures with unique version of Handel's Messiah

Every year around this time, there are a handful of Messiahs around Toronto to pick from. This year, George Frideric Handel's 1741 English oratorio will also be offered in part in Maliseet, an Algonquian language spoken by the First Nations people of the Wabanaki Confederacy.

'We're hoping the feel will be something like a mashup of Handel, Bjork, and Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey'

Jeremy Dutcher, 24, worked to translate the Messiah into the Indigenous language of Maliseet. (Electric Messiah)

Every year around this time, there are a handful of Messiahs around Toronto to pick from.

This year, George Frideric Handel's 1741 English oratorio will also be offered in part in Maliseet, an Algonquian language spoken by the First Nations people of the Wabanaki Confederacy in their traditional territory stretching from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to parts of New England and southern Quebec.

The show, called Electric Messiah, has been translated into other languages as well as Maliseet, and will debut at Monday night at the Drake Underground.

Jeremy Dutcher is performing in the show, and helped translate the production. Each task came with its own challenges.

The 24-year-old from New Brunswick is the youngest in the production, and told Metro Morning he was simply trying to keep up with the more seasoned performers in the production. He will be performing the famous tenor aria Ev'ry Valley in Maliseet.

To sing it in another language meant he had to relearn music, like which vowels to stress, how the words flow together and how to convey the original meaning.

The translation took more than just practice.

Dutcher worked with elders in a native community in the northwest part of New Brunswick. 

"It was hard to capture," he said. "It was written in Biblical style. The English is very complicated. It has been a journey."

He worked for about a month to get it translated, but admits some nuances didn't transfer.

He said the elders were very supportive, and they were excited this language was about to get some attention in Toronto. 

The show, which uses three languages, is attempting to reflect the diversity of Toronto.

"Classical music is often levied with being elitest or inaccessible to everyday people," he said. "This is speaking to a new audience. If you hear something in your language or music represents your culture and speaks to you, it makes you listen when you weren't listening before. It's a whole new audience."

The oratorio is hosted by Soundstreams, as a part of its Ear Candy series, which takes well known classical works and reimagines them.

"This type of Messiah has never been done in Toronto before," says Kyle Brenders, Ear Candy curator and Soundstreams artistic associate. "Musically, we're hoping the feel will be something like a mashup of Handel, Bjork, and Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey."

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