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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The Messiah with North Carolina Symphony - review

    Messiah, oratorio in three parts, premiered in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1742
    Music by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
    Words compiled from the Bible by Charles Jennens

    North Carolina Symphony conducted by guest conductor Douglas Boyd
    North Carolina Master Chorale, Alfred E. Sturgis, music director

    Joélle Harvey, soprano
    Susan Platts, alto
    Robin Tritschler, tenor
    Christòpheren Nomura, bass

    Meymandi Concert Hall, Raleigh, NC, December 5-6, 2014 at 8 PM (this review is of the December 5 show), and Lee Auditorium, Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC, December 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM

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    Harvey, Platts, Boyd, Tritschler, and Nomura - photo credit Opera Lively

    This production of the Messiah in Raleigh counted, on paper, on the services of distinguished performers:

    Maestro Boyd is the Chief Conductor of the Musikkollegium Winterthur in Switzerland, and Artistic Director of Garsington Opera in England. He was the Music Director of the Manchester Camerata for ten seasons. He's been active with Opera North and Glyndebourne, and has numerous recordings with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Manchester Camerata, and the Musikkollegium Winterthur, including works of Strauss, Mendelssohn, and Schubert.

    American soprano Joélle Harvey who will soon be performing Anne Trulove in The Rake's Progress with Utah Opera, has had numerous appearances at Glyndebourne, and has sung with La Fenice and the Royal Opera House companies. Her concert performances include Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Barbican in London, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. She is featured in a recording of Saul alongside Sarah Connolly and Christopher Purves under maestro Harry Christophers, and Serse alongside David Daniels with the Early Opera Company under maestro Christian Curnyn. Ms. Harvey is Opera Lively's interviewee #152 (stay tuned for her interview which will be appearing on our pages in a month or so).

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    Ms. Joélle Harvey during her Opera Lively interview - photo credit Opera Lively

    British-born Canadian alto Susan Platts has performed at La Scala, Teatro di San Carlo, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center. Recent highlights include work with the Chicago Philharmonic, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Orchestre de Paris. She recorded a solo album of Schumann and Brahms songs that enjoyed considerable critical acclaim, and has also recorded Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, Brahms' Zwei Gesänge, and a CD of dramatic sacred art songs.

    Irish tenor Robin Tritschler is a regular of the Welsh National Opera with numerous roles there, and has recently debuted at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in Wozzeck. The Aix-en-Provence Festival, La Monnaie, Wigmore Hall, and the Concertgebouw have also heard the singer, who created the tenor roles in Roger Waters' Ça Ira, and Will Gregory's Piccard in Space. His discography includes Poulenc's complete songs, a recording of World War I songs with Malcolm Martineau called No Exceptions No Exemptions, a Wigmore Hall album with songs by Britten and Schubert, as well as other albums with songs by Mendelssohn and Britten.

    American bass-baritone Christòpheren Nomura after receiving a four-year Fulbright grant to study with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey, made a career in regional American opera houses such as Dallas, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Hawaii, and our partner company Opera Carolina. In the recital circuit he has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. He boasts an extensive discography with the labels Sony, Dorian, Teldec, London, Denon, TDK and L'oiseau Lyre, including a Grammy-nominated recording of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 on Telarc.

    The North Carolina Master Chorale was founded in 1942 and includes a 170-voice symphonic choir and a 22-voice professional chamber choir. It reaches an audience of over 10,000 people annually, in performances with 250 artists each season.

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    The sold-out audience at Meymandi Concert Hall listened to this Messiah in attentive silence, after the conductor in his spoken introduction to the performance asked for no sing-along and no standing-up for the Hallelujah chorus, quoting that the habit of standing up comes from the fact that maybe King George II stood up during one of the early runs in London "perhaps because he had an itch or something," and this practice is no longer justified "given that it's been a long time since we ruled you guys," added the maestro.

    I believe that Mr. Boyd did his best to motivate his forces, behaving very dynamically in the podium, but somehow the instrumentalists didn't seem to play with a lot of fervor. It was a technically correct and delicate performance by the North Carolina Symphony with good synchrony and smooth transitions, and enough aural/dynamic space left for the singers, but the orchestra certainly did not catch fire. The NC Master Chorale on the other hand was admirable, with perfect control of the music and full sound. The work wasn't presented complete; it had cuts, with a running time under two hours.

    I might be accused of bias given that I interviewed Joélle Harvey the next day and I tend to get paternalistic towards my dear interviewees (and her answers and friendly demeanor were a lot of fun), but my opinion of her singing precedes my encounter with her, and I did find her truly superior to her counterparts, exactly because she was the one performer who brought a great deal of soul and passion to her delivery. This petite, attractive woman has incredibly beautiful timbre of voice (it is quite distinctive and it provides significant aural pleasure for the audience, with a resonant and clear top that has a sort of liquid quality), good projection, and accurate technique. Her "I know that my Redeemer liveth" was a thing of beauty - you can listen to it in another of her performances by consulting one of our posts, by clicking [here], then clicking on the YouTube clip provided there, at the 1 hour 40' mark). She took care of acting with her face, voice, and body language, while her two male colleagues looked static and uninterested by comparison.

    In spite of the above criticism, both male singers were vocally very good. Robin Titschler has excellent diction and pitch control. He is precise and technically accomplished in his singing, with a pleasant voice. Mr. Nomura also did well in the more extensive bass role, with sufficient agility for the more colorful passages, and his voice is also easy on the ear.

    I was less fond of Ms. Platts who seemed forceful and had more trouble producing appropriate volume, appearing to be vocally fatigued (maybe she was a bit under the weather). By the way, upon interviewing Ms. Harvey the next day, she was sickish with some sinus trouble, which surprised me given her crystalline voice during the show: she must be even better and a force to be reckoned with, when she is at 100% of her form. I look forward to seeing her in staged opera, some day.

    There was no encore (one would have loved to hear again the very well rendered Hallelujah chorus), adding to the general impression that the musicians were more interested in just doing their jobs and going home than in injecting some intensity and excitement into the show, which resulted in relatively tepid applause by the public. On my way out I did hear other patrons praising the NC Master Chorale and the soprano but being less positive about other elements of the show, which exactly matched my impression.

    I'd rate this performance as follows:

    Chorale, A+ (sublime singing)
    Conductor, A (the lack of fire really didn't seem to be his fault; he tried hard - I learned the next day that rehearsal time was minimal)
    Instrumentalists, B- (come on, guys and gals, get into it!)
    Soprano, A+ (very beautiful performance with formidable timbre of voice)
    Alto, B- (the weakest link; maybe she was sick)
    Tenor, A- (rather satisfactory but could use some gritty stage presence - I suspect he is capable of it but didn't try)
    Bass, B+ (very correct, vocally pleasant)

    Overall, B+, a still recommended show due to sufficient elements of beauty, but not particularly thrilling (according to our rating system, B+ is the lowest grade that still allows a show to be called "recommended"). Given the caliber of the artists' resumés, I was expecting more. Certainly I wasn't disappointed with Joélle, and the NC Master Chorale is a well-oiled machine; I'd love to listen to the same piece with the same soprano and the same chorale, but with more spirited singers in the other roles and more energetic instrumentalists. They all do seem to possess the technical skills necessary to do well in this repertory, but just didn't seem that much into it. It was a wasted opportunity. Handel's gorgeous music deserves better than that.

    I see why I'm unsatisfied: it is less disappointing when the artists just don't seem to have what it takes: one feels sympathetic because we know how difficult it all is and how much training they need to go through in order to be able to be on stage and perform for us, so, one understands their limitations and respect them for their effort. However, when the artists do seem to have the ability to deliver a phenomenal performance (and these did seem to have it) but just don't, then the public feels cheated.

    So, bravo Joélle, bravo NC Master Chorale, kudos to the maestro for trying, but I'd love the others to try harder next time.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); December 7th, 2014 at 07:18 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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