Review: One-act operas show dedicated workmanship

Review: Beethoven Mass, one-act operas show dedicated workmanship

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
April 23, 2012

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Listening to Saturday evening’s performance of the Beethoven “Missa Solemnis” in Bloomington’s Evangelical Community Church, one could imagine the composer laboring over the score, a primary object of attention during four of his later years.

Conductor Gerald Sousa, his Bloomington Chamber Singers and four young soloists from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, along with a gathered-together orchestra, really seemed to have gotten it. This very personal “Solemn Mass” comes from a composer who could no longer actually hear what he was writing except in his imagination, from a man who recognized a host of shortcomings in his character. The music seesaws from heralding shouts to God that he, Beethoven, be heard and beseeching whispers to God that he be forgiven.

Sousa extracted from his musicians those desperate cries for attention and pleas for understanding. The climaxes expressing God’s glory shook the rafters. The supplications hovered in the air, almost haltingly, as if questioning acceptance from on high.

What one heard from this community chorus was remarkable. Even its rough-around-the-edges moments were made to sound just right, remindful of Beethoven’s struggle with the score and his own conscience. Maestro Sousa’s grasp of the music and dedicated workmanship as choral leader made that possible, as also they brought about the quieter effusions, here imbued with smooth radiance.

The soloists — soprano Meghan Dewald, mezzo Sarah Ballman, tenor Michael Day and bass-baritone Samuel Spade — proved a key ingredient in the performance’s success, lending their fine voices to the endeavor. They, too, appeared to be deep into the spirit of the occasion, aware of an interpretation designed to capture a composer’s internal and musical struggles.

A fifth soloist was the orchestra’s concertmaster, Benjamin Hoffman. He played the important and extended violin solo in the Benedictus exquisitely. Hoffman did his share, too, as concertmaster, helping to make the orchestra a contributing element to the whole of this exceptional “Missa Solemnis.”

One-act operas

Away from the main stage of the Musical Arts Center, in a third-floor space with a small stage of its own, graduate-level vocal majors in the Jacobs School, directed by Carol Vaness, presented three one-act operas in a pair of public workshops Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, each time with different casts.

This reviewer saw the Saturday workshop. Vaness had chosen an intriguing repertoire: Rachmaninoff’s “Aleko,” Hindemith’s “Hin und Zuruck” and, with the composer present, Neely Bruce’s “Pyramus and Thisbe.”

The melodramatic “Aleko,” written as an exam requirement when Rachmaninoff was a student at the Moscow Conservatory, tells of the title character who, weary of society, joins a band of Gypsies, falls in love with one who then falls out of love with him and chooses a younger Gypsy to lavish her attention on. Aleko stabs the two of them and is exiled from the tribe. Outstanding on stage was the Aleko, Jason Eck, whose baritone and spirited acting brought dimension to the part and power to the performance.

Hindemith’s “Hin und Zuruck” (“There and Back”) is a brief tidbit of absurdity in which the action reverses itself: A jealous husband kills his wife, and a “Wise Man” character arrives to reverse time and bring the action back to pre-murder. The music is appropriately light, as was the action on stage. Tenor Nick Pulikowski was a particular delight as the Wise Man. Tenor David Margulis and soprano Arwen Myers scored as the couple.

The visiting Neely Bruce composed his “Pyramus and Thisbe” in 1965, while a student at the University of Alabama. He was prompted by Shakespeare’s comic retelling in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” of Ovid’s tragic tale of Pyramus who, on erroneously assuming that his beloved Thisbe has been killed by a lion, commits suicide. Bruce’s music holds charms and was well served by the cast, with plaudits due particularly for Margulis and soprano Olivia Savage as the lovers, baritone Preston Orr as the Prologue and mezzo Jacquelyn Matava as a cranky Wall.

Pianist Piotr Wisniewski was a terrific orchestra.


Copyright: 2012

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