I may have missed something. Netia Jones, the empress of digital projection whose productions rarely fail to illuminate, has staged Handel’s Messiah for Bergen National Opera as a hi-tech extravaganza. I could barely follow it.

<i>Messiah</i> © Monika Kolstad
Messiah
© Monika Kolstad

The director sprinkles clues in her programme note, where she notes that the sacred oratorio’s first performance was given in Ireland in 1741, a year of unimaginable poverty for that luckless land. The bass soloist, she observes, preaches hellfire, the tenor is the voice of comfort and responsibility, the alto represents suffering and forbearance. So at least we know where we’re starting from. It’s where we end up that’s the puzzle.

The time is today. A woman brings a bedraggled child into a church service where a kindly chorister hands him a soft toy to play with. He is grateful, although manifestly too old for it. Wipe to a soup kitchen where the dispossessed are fed. The boy, played with aplomb by Didrik August Strønen Damm, sees an angel  who resembles Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy (perhaps because that’s a child’s idea of an angel) and collapses. Wipe again to a bed where the woman who first rescued the child keeps vigil and changes the bandages that now cover his upper arms. (I’m not sure why.) Once that scene has ended the oratorio continues but the boy is never seen again.

<i>Messiah</i> © Monika Kolstad
Messiah
© Monika Kolstad

It’s probably best to go with the flow and marvel at lighting tricks that place solid tiles on the floor and repaint scarlet cassocks indigo. A scrupulously rehearsed chorus drawn from Cathedra and the Edvard Grieg Choir set and reset the stage with a fluidity that matches the electronic virtuosity. Items of ecclesiastical statuary stand in stark relief or at times are subsumed by the effects.

Bjarte Eike led his Baroque Soloists in quite the fastest account of Messiah I can recall, and from a visual standpoint this meant that none of Jones’s imagery outstayed its welcome. The deft instrumental playing was a happy fit for Bergen’s Nationale Scene, an enchanting and acoustically pure theatre that hosts scenic arts of every kind from Baroque opera to The Tiger Lillies. Balance between pit and stage was close to ideal, and the vibrant singing of the combined choirs was never less than exhilarating.

<i>Messiah</i> © Monika Kolstad
Messiah
© Monika Kolstad

Bass Callum Thorpe (in a bald wig and a skull cap) was the pick of the solo team. After shaking the nations and evoking a refiner’s fire, he shed his forbidding dark pebble glasses and delivered a pitch-perfect account of The trumpet shall sound. Mezzo Renata Pokupić was constantly required to dramatise her appearances as the child’s benefactor, which may have led her tonal quality to suffer a little, but Pierre Derhet sang the tenor’s few contributions with a graceful flow and soprano Kateryna Kasper transcended her cornflower taffeta to bring a rare devotion to I know that my Redeemer liveth.

Spectators for whom Messiah is etched in their DNA will have been distracted throughout by wondering what impressionistic diversion Jones had up her sleeve for the next number. She is a visionary stage practitioner, but this show is a rare misjudgement. However, at least she projected exquisite facsimiles of the biblically-derived texts of Charles Jennens; and, whatever else was going on, Handel emerged trumphant.