Bach Collegium San Diego Presented World Premiere of Handel’s Messiah in Spanish, “El Mesías: Messiah for a New World”

The Binational, Cross-Border, Bilingual Project Featured Spanish-Speaking Soloists and a Performance in Tijuana at the Tijuana Cultural Center

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Bach Collegium San Diego. Photo: Facebook

Bach Collegium San Diego, one of the country’s leading ensembles performing historically informed performances repertoire from the Renaissance, Baroque, and early classical eras, presented the entire Handel’s Messiah, in Spanish, performed on historically accurate instruments with two performances in San Diego and one in Tijuana. 

The company commissioned a Spanish libretto of Handel’s Messiah with the purpose of performing it in one of the vernacular languages of our immediate community, both in the United States and Mexico.

Messiah has been a mainstay of the Bach Collegium San Diego season throughout the company’s history, but Artistic Director Ruben Valenzuela has always sought to present different versions in order to showcase Messiah's versatility and eternal appeal. Valenzuela developed his own love of music through experiencing Messiah excerpts in Spanish during his childhood and musically formative years. The complete performance in Spanish brought together Valenzuela's longtime goal of a dynamic, historically informed performance in keeping with Messiah's ongoing history of a work that adapts, is malleable and responds to the world around it. 

In addition to founding and leading Bach Collegium San Diego, Ruben Valenzuela is Director of the Music and Organist of All Souls’ Episcopal Church, San Diego, and the Choral Director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus. As a musicologist, he has undertaken research at the Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información Musical, Carlos Chavez (CENEDIM, Mexico City), and engaged in research at the Archivo del Cabildo of Mexico City Cathedral. He holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from Claremont Graduate University.

The Many Messiahs

Since the oratorio's premiere in Dublin, Ireland, in 1741, Handel's Messiah has permeated the fabric of Western culture. Handel performed the work continuously, most notably in charitable performances connected to London’s Foundling Hospital. Handel continuously adapted and rearranged the work to suit the strengths of his singers, his evolving orchestral resources, and overall intentions. By the time of Handel's death in 1759, one could legitimately consider 10 distinct versions of the work, with no less than 43 versions of the 15 arias.

Messiah has an unbroken performance history, continuously evolving through time according to the needs of a particular age. In the late 18th century Mozart took his own hand to Messiah (Der Messias) by adapting a version suitable for Viennese audiences in the German language and with expanded orchestral forces. As the work grew in popularity into the 19th and 20th centuries, so the ongoing adaptations and reimagining as related to performance practice. In our own time, the influence of the historically informed performance movement has brought the work full circle, seeking to return to Handel's own performance tradition.

Ruben Valenzuela. Bach Collegium San Diego. Photo: Facebook

"Messiah is not commonly performed in Spanish, and that’s a real gap in its long and evolving history, our goal is to offer a complete and dynamic Spanish Messiah that will speak to our immediate community, the Spanish speaking world at large, and make a significant contribution to the oratorio's long performance history." 
.-Artistic Director Ruben Valenzuela

The translation to Spanish of Messiah is in the hands of experienced Tijuana musical scholar Mario Montenegro, artistic director of the Vocal Ensemble of the Tijuana Cultural Center. Montenegro has held teaching and research positions at the Universidad de Guadalajara, Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana, the School of Canto Lirico in Mazatlan, and the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, as well as the Center of Musical Arts and Scenic Vocal Formation Ja’sit in Tijuana. For more than 30 years, he has focused on the understanding and performance of opera from the perspective and analysis of argument, style, and communication of the text through music and scenic representation. In this field, he has worked as a director and producer of radio programs and opera and concert performances. His book, “Morfologia del Bel Canto,” proposes a methodological approach to the analysis of the most representative works of Italian Romanticism.
“This is the right place and time to do it, and BCSD is the ensemble to carry this project forth,” adds Valenzuela. “Our artists are excited and ready to expand the reach of this great work, and to explore how our communities access them.”
For detailed bios and a list of ensemble performers please visit the website. For more information, visit 

Up next in May is Apotheosis of the Dance with two performances. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
Bach Collegium San Diego. Photo: Facebook

ABOUT Bach Collegium San Diego
Bach Collegium San Diego engages audiences with accessible, historically informed performances and educational programs featuring repertoire from the Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical eras. The ensemble was founded in 2003 by Music Director Ruben Valenzuela to diversify the musical offerings of the San Diego community. Bach Collegium San Diego has presented a wide variety of historically significant works, including many San Diego and Southern California premieres. Works are performed using the instruments, instrumentation, and techniques of the period in which they were written. Bach Collegium San Diego engages this country’s finest musicians working in the field of early music, bringing world-class historically informed performance to the greater San Diego area through main stage concerts and admission-free lunchtime performances. Through its excellent programming and exemplary performances, Bach Collegium San Diego is considered one of the premier early music ensembles on the West Coast and is quickly becoming one of this country’s foremost ensembles for early music. Bach Collegium San Diego is the ensemble-in-residence at All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Point Loma.

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