Most people know composer Felix Mendelssohn from his dramatic wedding march that dates back to Queen Victoria. Robert Cooper, Artistic Director of Chorus Niagara, recently offered us much more ‒ according to Cooper, the maestro’s “greatest of all Romantic oratorios, Elijah.”
This event kick-started the season at St. Catharine’s new PAC with the Niagara Symphony, augmented by the Redeemer University College Alumni Singers and an impressive array of soloists led by Canadian baritone Russell Braun as Elijah.
At the oratorio’s dramatic conclusion, the sold-out audience of 800 patrons sprang to their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation. Each soloist ‒ Leslie AnnBradley, soprano, AnitaKrause, mezzo-soprano, and Adam Luther, tenor, sang beautifully, but if this was a hockey game, Braun would be awarded all three stars. His remarkable voice could literally raise the biblical dead. He was fantastic!
David Perlman, writing in The Wholenote on the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir website, quotes Cooper “I’ve done the work four times already…it’s a magnificent score…Russell was a student and singing in my Opera in Concert Chorus – he was at the Glenn Gould School, and this year I thought I really want to get him back…it’s one of his signature pieces now – he sings it all over the world…You have to have a singer of real stature for the role, someone who has a real sense of personality, who can take charge. It’s a very operatic piece. You want someone who can stand up there and bring all of the operatic fervour that they can and I personally only use Canadian artists…there are certainly a few other gentlemen who can do it but for me Russell is the signature Elijah. So I wanted to grab him while I could.”
From the program notes, we learn that in 1829, Mendelssohn revived J. S. Bach’s music in Germany and, eventually, throughout Europe by arranging and conducting Bach’s masterpiece, the St. Mathew Passion. A child prodigy, Mendelssohn was also one of the first conductors to use a baton, and is credited with transporting the practice to Great Britain.
If you are a tad rusty on Biblical fare, Elijah is one of Israel’s great prophets and the heavyweight boxing champion in the deity’s battle against Baal, a rival Canaanite storm god. He mixes it up with the tenth king of Israel, Ahab (borrowed by Herman Melville for Moby-Dick) and his wife Jezebel, two of the most vilified characters in the Bible. In Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, (1985) the brothel is called “Jezebel’s” and prostitutes are referred to as “Jezebels.
Elijah leaves earth in style aboard a fiery chariot sent from heaven.Chariots of Fire, the 1981 British film is one of my favourites, the dramatic theme music never failing to inspire me. It tells the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.
Chorus Niagara will follow up Elijah with Handel’s Messiah December 10 at 7:30pm in impressive Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Their Welland Seaway Mall flash mob singing of Handel’s Messiah was one of the great marketing schemes of all time as the YouTube video (Nov. 13, 2010) is currently up to 48,727,178 views! Act fast. 500 tickets have already been sold!
Photo courtesy of Chorus Niagara.
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