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Top talent to perform Handel's Messiah

It's been more than 270 years since George Frideric Handel's Messiah was first performed in a Dublin theatre.

It’s been more than 270 years since George Frideric Handel’s Messiah was first performed in a Dublin theatre.

As the story goes, the show had earned such a reputation before it hit the stage that women were asked not to wear hoop skirts to come watch.

Organizers wanted to cram more people into the room.

Since then the complex oratorio, with its most famous Hallelujah chorus, has become a staple of the Christmas season.

This year more than two dozen Yukoners will be showing off their musical chops while performing the Messiah on Friday and Saturday at the Whitehorse United Church.

There’s no dress code this time. Hoop skirts or not, audience members will be given musical scores and can sing along with the chorus if they want.

For director Rachel Grantham, nothing compares to the sound of voices coming together with the string quartet accompanying them.

“There’s no recording anywhere in the world that can substitute for that.”

She calls the performance “an internal massage.”

Handel’s complete creation is made up of 53 pieces. Modern performances rarely do the whole thing for the sake of everyone’s voices.

The Whitehorse performance covers the biblical story of Christmas and parts of the Easter story.

The chorus has been rehearsing for months. They play multiple roles in the piece.

“Sometimes the chorus is a narrator, sometimes the chorus is a character like the angels of God. Sometimes the chorus is a mob,” Grantham said.

The show is also a chance to highlight four soloists, three with Yukon connections.

It’s a homecoming for soprano Jana Holesworth. She was born in Nova Scotia but raised in the Yukon.

Holesworth left the territory to go to school and hone her operatic skills. She just completed a master’s of music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in Cardiff, Wales.

“For me it’s exciting to be back singing in Whitehorse in general but particularly thrilling that I get to do it under the baton of Rachel Grantham, who was my first voice teacher,” Holesworth said.

“She’s the person who got me into music in the first place so it’s quite exciting to be able to come back and work with her.”

Holesworth started working with Grantham in the Borealis Children’s Choir when she was eight or nine years old and later took private lessons.

Even at that age Holesworth showed she had a talent for opera, Grantham said. “She just came with this incredible natural ability.”

Now that they’ve been reunited, Grantham says she can still hear the “even and beautiful colour” in Holesworth’s voice that she had as a child.

“She was just a kids’ kid,” Grantham said, describing the young girl with braces.

“She’s just blossomed into this lovely singer.”

Whitehorse’s Kyle Macdonald is the bass soloist. This is his second time taking on the part. He was also a soloist in 2013 when the Messiah was performed here last.

“I just enjoy the feel of the music. It’s very different than modern music and Handel writes some great music,” he said.

“It’s nice to sing in a church space, it seems to fit really well.”

Macdonald sang with Grantham in the Whitehorse Community Choir before he went south to study opera.

Mezzo-soprano Hollie Dunkley is also from Whitehorse. She moved to the city last year after training and working around southern Ontario.

The soloists are rounded out by Toronto tenor Michael Marino. Marino also performed in the 2013 show.

Grantham says the show is for anyone who wants to experience this type of classical music, whether they are religious or not.

“It’s just a very magical orchestration.”

Both Friday and Saturday’s performances are at 8 p.m. at the Whitehorse United Church.

Tickets can be bought online through the Yukon Arts Centre or at Arts Underground. Tickets are $22 for adults and $16 for students and seniors.

Contact Ashley Joannou at