a latin hallelujah

As a lovely welcome-back to Miami Beach, I recently attended a dynamic, even aspirational, rendition of Handel’s Messiah in a Jewish synagogue. That’s right, music whose normal Yuletide purpose is to emphasize that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah, as predicted throughout the Old Testament, which they missed.

To add layers, the Beth Shmuel Temple belongs to the Cuban-Hebrew Congregation of Miami. And this being Southern Florida, it was the first time I’ve heard solos sing Messiah with a Spanish accent. But don’t get me wrong: Messiah, one of my favorite choral works, is a cultural mish-mash itself: a German composer, living in England, with a libretto in English.

While I’ve attended even more stretch performances, by Brazilian youth in the country’s vast interior (the youth component making it, by definition, aspirational), the charms at Beth Shmuel were manifold. Not only was the interlude of the pastoral symphony accompanied by an angelic ballerina (from the Magic Slippers Fine Arts Academy) but a third way into the performance, off-stage noises were accompanying in a different way.

The performance was in the temple’s ballroom. Flanking the raised stage on both sides were scrims. Due to the ceiling’s dark reflective surface, mottled by fairy icicle lights, one could see by reflection the cause of the noises: a gaggle of young children. Not only did their sneakers, when in flight, cause basketball-court-like squeaks, but they dropped things now and then with a soft clang.

One could only guess that several of the chorus members were young mothers, who on a Sunday afternoon had naturally brought their children along, but as Latins are by and large a forgiving lot when it comes to rambunctious children, no one from the temple or audience appeared unduly bent out of shape.

A maternal-looking photographer did slip behind the scrim several times, as well as a thin, slightly wizened gentleman, in order to quell the rebellion, but no one was able to fully repress their energies for the duration.

While this was somewhat distracting during arias, the performers had the last laugh, during the rousing Hallelujah chorus, with all instruments, including vocal, at full tilt. As the Florida Opera Prima choral signers rose, the emotive Soprano soloist encouraged the audience to do the same, adding our voices to the hallelujahs, which we did. Suddenly the ballroom lights, along the wall and sprinkled like stars among the ceiling’s pixie galaxy, started to pulse and flash, and we attained choral heaven before spilling out into the mild March afternoon.  [March 2018]


About Ben

Ben Batchelder has traveled some of the world's most remote roads. Nothing in his background, from a degree in Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard to an MBA from Wharton, adequately prepared him for the experiences. Yet he persists, for through such journeys life unfolds. Having published four books that map the inner and exterior geographies of meaningful travel, he is a mountain man in Minas Gerais, Brazil who comes down to the sea at Miami Beach, Florida. His second travel yarn, To Belém & Back, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, visit www.benbatchelder.com.

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