Songs of freedom | Caribbean Beat

Originally written for and published in Caribbean Beat magazine in 2007

This September, Geraldine Connor’s epic musical Carnival Messiah will be presented in a rather unusual setting. The mammoth production will be staged under a 1,000-seat big top on the lawn of the sprawling Harewood House, home of the Queen’s cousin the Earl of Harewood, and an estate built on the profits made from 18th-century slave plantations.

Created and directed by Connor—daughter of Trinidadian musician Edric Connor—Carnival Messiah is a radical re-setting of Handel’s Messiah, infused with music and dance that run the gamut of Trinidadian folk culture. It was first staged, to impressive reviews, at England’s West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1999 and 2002, and at Trinidad and Tobago’s Queen’s Hall in 2003 and 2004. This time, it is being remounted during events in the United Kingdom marking the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.

The producer of Carnival Messiah is Viscount David Lascelles, son of the Earl of Harewood, heir apparent to the earldom, and 40th in line to the throne of England. Lascelles is frank about his family’s wealth, and also keen to make Harewood a positive part of community activities in Leeds and beyond. “It’s nearly 250 years since Henry Lascelles made his fortune, but there are some in Leeds’ West Indian community and beyond who still see the estate as a symbol of that cruel and tragic time,” Lascelles explains.

“Britain today is a multicultural society. That’s not a matter for debate, it’s a fact,” he says emphatically. “If the bicentenary is to have any lasting effect we have to engage with it and use the estate as a venue for people to debate it. To me, by staging [Carnival Messiah], there is a sense that things have come full circle.”

In addition to a 50-strong community cast that will come from the Leeds area, several Trinidadian performers will make the trip to Harewood House, including choreographer Carole La Chapelle with a cast of top dancers, and performers Ataklan, Sheldon Blackman, Alyson Brown, Renée Castle, Ann Fridal, and Ella Andall.

Carnival Messiah runs from September 14 to 30. For more information, visit: www.harewood.org

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