Following both the well-received Elijah and Messiah presented in the attractive FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Chorus Niagara premiered The Farthest Shore, a choral drama based upon the Celtic fable of a Welsh village cast under a spell by a mysterious, foreign lad.
For me, many Welsh pursuits are stirring, especially rugby which is aggressive and choral music which is compelling, but Welsh composer Paul Mealor projects his inventive music higher to a privileged level.
He enjoyedinternational stardom when 2.5 billion people (the largest audience in broadcasting history) heard his Motet, Ubi caritas performed at the Royal Wedding Ceremony of His Royal Highness Prince William and Catherine Middleton. And Frank Daykin for New York Concert Review stated, ” … if there ‘is’ a heaven, I want it to sound like he music of Paul Mealor.”
Chorus Niagara programmed this performance well prior to the U.S. election, and was incredibly prescient in its theme, the story of a stranger, an immigrant, rejected and feared at first by locals, but whose presence enhances their lives beyond belief, a premise enunciated by an animated Karen Toppila, Board of Directors Chair. In her introduction, she extended a warm welcome to “our Syrian family” prior to the performance. How thrilled they must have felt to receive, in this case, not the extreme vetting of a Donald Trump, but rousing and appreciative applause from an enthusiastic Canadian house.
During the melodic evening, the audience was surrounded by song, the chorus occupying the upper balconies, the Children’s Choir at the orchestra rear and gifted soloists such as soprano Maeve Palmer and baritone Ryan Miller slowly walking down the aisles, allowing us to savour their talent up close. When both Mauve Palmer and Ryan Moilliet strolled past me while signing, I was captivated by the sound.
The second part of the program was ushered in by Peter MacKenzie’s bagpipes and then Conductor Robert Cooper helped celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday year with a fun-filled Choral Ceilidth, full of classic Celtic folk songs such as My Faithful One and Mairi’s Wedding, two Gaelic songs, My Wish For You featuring Niagara on the Lake violinist Gail Poulsen, Newfoundland’s I’s the By sung by the Children’s Choir, Irish folksong Carrickfergus, Calliope Jig featuring the talented Faherty deMenzes Dance Academy, Danny Boy, the Irish favourite, Scottish folksong Loch Lomond, Gaelic tune The Morning Dew, the Scottishstandard Auld Lang Syne and finally Cape Breton’s We Rise Again.
The evening included guest artists such as harpist Deborah Braun from the Niagara Symphony, flutist Douglas Miller, percussionist Anne Adams and the aforementioned Faherty deMenzes Dance Academy with their toe-tapping vitality.
Special mention must go to the young and promising treble, Michael Driscoll who, at a tender age, performed like a pro and Amanda Nelli the CNCC conductor who expertly directed the children. They of course, stole the show. They were proficient and adorable. Finally, Virginia Reh, the stage director, was clever and effective in her use of colour, balance, placement for an overall staging effect.
It was an engaging, wonderful evening, a nostalgic look back at our pioneer roots, a celebration of diversity, and a pleasant contrast between young and old with a hint that music in Niagara, thanks to the likes of multi-talented Robert Cooper, will be well served. As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, “The old order changeth yielding place to new…”
What’s next for Chorus Niagara in their splendid Partridge Hall setting? The dramatic 1925 silent, horror film Phantom Of The Opera to be projected on the giant PAC screen, accompanied by a choral soundtrack crafted especially for this ghoulish classic in which Lon Chaney stars as the mad, disfigured composer whose passionate obsession precipitates a murderous end. Organist Lynne Honsberger will inspire the audience with improvisations à la the original silent movies.
Best get your seats early, as it promises to be yet another sellout program!
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