by Mike Keenan
For me, Christmas is incomplete without a rousing performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Handel wrote Messiah in three weeks and in 1742, it was first performed in Dublin.
In the informative Chorus Niagara program notes compiled by Marian Van Til, I learned that “Handel wrote prolifically: royal and church anthems, songs, secular cantatas and operas, chamber and keyboard works, concertos ‒ including the organ concertos that were his unique invention. But the genre that audiences since his own time have come to most love and associate with Handel is the biblical oratorio. It is a form uniquely his.
With a robust number of singers, upwards of one hundred strong, Chorus Niagara literally filled the stage at FirstOntario’s attractive Partridge Hall, the men decked out in red Christmas ties, as the joyful and talented ensemble harmoniously produced their musically alternate versions of four-part harmony throughout Handel’s uplifting polychoral composition.
For this year’s Messiah, once again, Artistic Director, Robert Cooper, assembled a talented group of young soloists, destined to enjoy promising careers.
Jacqueline Woodley’s potent soprano voice was crystal clear and powerful. Her credits include the Ottawa Choral Society Edmonton Opera, San Francisco Opera, Philadelphia Opera, Thunder Bay Symphony, Montreal Symphony and the St. Lawrence Choir in Montreal.
Local Stephanie Tritchew, a mezzo-soprano, was thrilled to sing at home in Niagara, her emotions on display particularly in Part Two, Christ’s Passion. Stephanie is a former member of Chorus Niagara’s Side By Side High School Chorale. She completed her Opera Diploma at the University of Toronto under the tutelage of Wendy Nielsen.
Asitha Tennekoon, first to sing, displayed a smooth, enchanting tenor’s voice, augmented by his attractive Nehru jacket. From Sri Lanka, he is a graduate of the Glenn Gould School of Music and Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, winning the Dora Award for his starring role in The Rocking Horse Winner with Tapestry Opera.
Clarence Frazer, the baritone, dazzled us with his striped socks and powerful presence. This Canadian earned praise for his “silvery baritone that retains its silky texture through his entire range” (London Free Press). Clarence looks forward to joining the cast of Le Nozze di Figaro in concert, understudying Figaro and singing Antonio with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
During the enchanted musical evening, I thought how fortunate St. Catharines is to possess this awesome performance facility as well and the talented artists and local financial backing to help make this municipality a great place to enjoy music at a truly professional level.
Robert Cooper, characteristically conducting with his left heel raised, dazzled us like a whirling dervish of energy, directing both chorus and the exceptional Talisker Players, an independent professional ensemble of instrumentalists dedicated to working with singers. Founded in 1995, they are professional musicians which includes violin, viola, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, tympani, cello and bass. I particularly enjoyed David Sandall’s harpsichord and Krista Rhodes, the organist.
The next concert, Chorus Niagara’s third, “is a must-hear experience and according to Cooper, ‘the best oratorio you may never have heard’ ‒ Arthur Honegger’s remarkable choral drama King David. The theatrical energy of this story of rivalry, jealousy and violence takes centre stage along with the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir, Chorus Niagara Chamber Ensemble, actors Colin Palangio and Monica Dufault and guest soloists in this unique and captivating blend of French Impressionism, German Baroque, Gregorian chant, far-eastern influences and jazz: a compelling choral drama blazing with musical power.”
He concludes the season with another Silent Cinema offering, Peter Pan (1924), accompanied by their “live” choral soundtrack! Details available at their website: https://www.chorusniagara.org/
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