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Against the Grain Theatre’s daring new interpretation of Handel’s Messiah is a truly cross-Canada performance — in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone, and accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Messiah/Complex soloist Deantha Edmunds on set for her video shoot in Petty Harbour, NL. Photo by Justin Oakey.

This is a holiday season like no other we’ve ever experienced— we can all agree (where’s the rum and eggnog?).

Yes, we are all practicing social-distancing—here at AtG we’re also committed to “vocal-distancing!” Across the world and here in Canada, so many of us, our families and friends, dream of gathering together to summon some much-needed cheer and goodwill towards the close of this challenging year. Instead, we must make alternate plans, and be creative about how we stay connected to our loved ones and communities.

In the performing arts, same story.

So many wonderful performances and productions have been delayed, recalibrated or simply cancelled, with our familiar and supportive arts venues shut or audience capacity drastically diminished. And, of course, thousands of artists (our friends and colleagues) are at home—honing their craft and doing their best to keep creative dreams alive.

The official trailer for Messiah/Complex. Edited by Coffeeshop Creative. 

Earlier this year, AtG made the decision to move forward with its holiday production of Messiah, but with a twist.

We will capture it as a filmed performance — all with the hope that artists, arts organizations and audiences will reciprocate our creative optimism. We all need a sense of hope right now, and this was our way to keep the candles burning.

Spencer Britten on set for his video shoot downtown Vancouver, BC. Photo by Georgia Street Media. November 15, 2020.

What a thrilling journey this has turned out to be for us.

We started this adventure on our own: one small opera company trying something different, outside-the-box. Now we’re working together with a group of incredible soloists, choirs and the largest symphony in the country (high five). These artists and organizations have all contributed extraordinary energy, nerve and talent to bring this daring production of Messiah to you.

AtG—along with its partners, and featured artists—is proud to offer Messiah/Complex free of charge to every soul in need of a musical lift. Creating this national project has been a huge undertaking for us as a small arts organization, and has required a tremendous amount of resources. If you are able, please consider a donation to AtG this holiday season, so that we can bring more outside-the-box operatic experiences to you, and provide employment opportunities to artists and artisans nationwide.

AtG Artistic Director and Messiah/Complex Co-Director Joel Ivany.

Banff Centre Director of Indigenous Arts and Messiah/Complex Co-Director Reneltta Arluk.

AtG Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany partnered with Banff Centre’s Director of Indigenous Arts, Reneltta Arluk, to Co-Direct this new interpretation of Messiah…

…with the goal of amplifying this unique moment of pride and inclusivity in Canada—honouring and giving support to Indigenous and underrepresented voices from coast-to-coast-to-frozen-coast, and hoping to share these voices with a national audience.

Leela Gilday (NT)

No. 45 – Senewetsıne, godı́ ǫt’e bek’eoreshǫ (I know that My Redeemer Liveth – Sung in Dene)

Looee Arreak (NU)

No. 20 – He shall feed his flock (Sung in Inuktitut and English)

Deantha Edmunds (NL)

No. 38 – Kuvianattuksovut itigangit (How Beautiful Are the Feet – Sung in Inuttitut)

Spencer Britten (BC)

No. 2 – Comfort ye my people

No. 3 – Ev’ry valley shall be exalted

Diyet (YT)

No. 9 – Utʼawkwadįchʼe yesį chʼe yan nań käy (O thou that tellest good tidings – Sung in Southern Tutchone)

Andrea Lett (SK)

No. 18 – Rejoice Greatly, o daughter of Zion

This interpretation of Handel’s enduring holiday classic really is national in scope, with singers participating from every Province and Territory in Canada.

The text has been translated into multiple languages, providing specific soloists the ability to sing and express themselves in their traditional language of choice—for example, Leela Gilday will sing her portion in Dene from the Northwest Territories, while Deantha Edmunds and Looee Arreak will sing in Inuktitut from Newfoundland Labrador and Nunavut respectively.

Messiah/Complex soloists include: Cree-Métis baritone Jonathon Adams; Inuktituk singer Looee Arreak; British Columbia tenor Spencer Britten; Canadian-Tunisian Rihab Chaieb in Montreal; Edmonton-born mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel; Inuk singer Deantha Edmunds in Newfoundland & Labrador; Dene singer-songwriter Leela Gilday in Northwest Territories; Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil; Saskatchewan soprano Andrea Lett; Diyet van Lieshout, who sings in Southern Tutchone, from Yukon Territory; Métis singer Julie Lumsden; and Toronto baritone Elliot Madore.

Miriam Khalil (ON)

No. 52 – إِنْ كَانَ اللهُ مَعَنَا فَمَنْ عَلَيْنَا (If God be for us – Sung in Arabic)

Catherine Daniel (AB)

No. 40 – Why do the nations so furiously rage together?

Elliot Madore (ON)

No. 47 – Behold, I tell you a mystery

No. 48 – The trumpet shall sound

Julie Lumsden (MB)

No. 20 – He shall feed his flock

Jonathon Adams (AB)

No. 5 – Thus saith the Lord

No. 6 – But who May Abide the day of His coming

Rihab Chaieb (QC)

No. 23 – Elle fut méprisé  (He was Despised – Sung in French)

These diverse and singular voices represent an array of cultural traditions and heritages…

…as well as every region of our vast and interconnected country—hence the addition of “Complex” to the title of this production of Messiah. We’re celebrating the artists’ uniqueness and comfort.

Baritone Elliot Madore on set for his video at Weston Lions Arena in Toronto, ON. Photo by Coffeeshop Creative. October 26th, 2020.

In fact, this “complex” interpretation of Messiah includes 6 languages, 12 soloists, 4 choirs, and is lifted by the mighty sounds of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and has been made possible in this socially-distanced era with hi- and low-tech solutions, and some superb audio and video editors.

Every aspect of this production has been made possible by the goodwill and diligence of the cast and crew involved following the most up-to-date provincial COVID-19 safety protocols.

In order of appearance: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (No. 44 – Hallelujah), UPEI Chamber Singers (No. 7 – And He Shall Purify), Le Choeur Louisbourg (No. 12 – For Unto Us A Child is Born), and the Halifax Camerata Singers (No. 53 – Worthy is the Lamb that was slain).

We also wanted to recognize that for many Canadians this is a challenging financial season.

AtG—along with its cultural partners, and participating artists— is proud to offer this performance of Messiah/Complex to any soul in need of a musical lift, free of charge, and online. We’re asking for one favour in return.

Messiah/Complex soloist Julie Lumsden on set for her video shoot on Lake Louise, AB. Photo by Daniel Thomson.

Yes, you guessed it. If you are able to make a donation, please do.

AtG is proud to share this experience with you this holiday season. And we are asking that if you have the means, please consider supporting our opera company, the efforts of these talented artists, and this production, with a donation.

Miriam Khalil, soprano and AtG Associate Artistic Director, shares her Messiah/Complex story. Shot at St. Raphael’s Church Ruins in Williamstown, ON. Video by Coffeeshop Creative.

AtG would like to extend a special thank you to the artists, arts administrators, technicians and crew who took a chance on us, and who have inspired our team throughout this creative journey.

On behalf of AtG, our Board of Directors, arts partners Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, we hope you enjoy this unique and inspired performance of Messiah/Complex.

We hope you stay healthy and safe this holiday season.

Register now to experience the Messiah/Complex at our premiere watch party on December 13, at 8pm EST, on AtGTV.

Supported By


Alexandra Baillie
Andrea Bellefeuille
Carolyn & Steve Campbell
Simion Candrea
Marc Chalifoux
Debbie Delancey
Lynn Eakin
Sandra Gavinchuk & William Bowen
Andrew Gillespie
Valarie Koziol
Joy Levine
Shirley Neuman
Christian Perry
Frances Price
Cornelia Schuh & Michiel Horn
Robert Sherrin & Astrid Janson
Kris Vikmanis & Denton Creighton
Peter Wismath


Aldershot Landscape Contractors
Bank of Montreal
Validus Reinsurance, Ltd.

Diyet’s appearance is generously supported by Whitehorse Concerts


The Azrieli Foundation
Yukon Arts Centre

Aldershot Landscape Contractors
BMO Logo
The Azrieli Foundation logo