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Masterworks Chorale puts on an elaborate show
March 28, 2014, 05:00 AM By David Bratman Daily Journal

Masterworks Chorale’s season concludes on May 31 and June 1 with a concert of love songs, anchored by Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes, at the Congregational Church of San Mateo.

Masterworks Chorale’s performance of Carmina Burana, conducted by Bryan Baker Sunday at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, came closer than any other I’ve seen to filling composer Carl Orff’s original intentions for the staging of the work. Although there were no sets or elaborate costumes, there was some pretty full-scale acting, as well as some genuine dancing. It was a bit like a semi-staged opera.

Baritone Igor Vieira, who has the largest solo part, took the operatic dictum to heart and sang as if he were auditioning for the role of Escamillo in Carmen. His voice was light-toned and full of character. He threw himself into his roles, particularly that of the Abbot of Cockaigne, for which he appeared without his jacket, took swigs from a bottle and burped loudly while staggering around. It was an amusing opera stage performance rather than a concert aria, but it raised one question: Why is the Abbot so plastered when he’s boasting of how he can hold his liquor better than anyone?

Even funnier was tenor Brian Thorsett as the roasting swan. He made birdlike jumps while trying to evade members of the women’s chorus (who don’t sing during this number) who were wielding kitchen implements ranging from a carving knife to oven mitts. This was amusing, and if it wasn’t too distracting, one might notice he was singing well, too.

Soprano Shawnette Sulker was charmingly coquettish in her solos in the “Courts of Love” section. She and Vieira, now playing the gallant, courted each other ardently throughout the solos and choruses, going so far as to exchange a tender kiss and then to walk, arm in arm, offstage to unseen groves of Venus during the chorus’s concluding hymn.

But despite an attempt to make this courtship a continuing theme, going all the way back to having Vieira deliver his first solo, near the beginning of the work, to a silent Sulker who’d come on stage just for the purpose, one problem is that Carmina Burana doesn’t really have an operatic plot. Treating the progression of the courtship as a story, it was full of false starts and incongruous interruptions, including the Abbot and the swan.

Another problem was less a flaw than a clash in styles. The Masterworks Chorale was supplemented for this performance by the Valley Concert Chorale and the Hillsdale High School Chamber Singers, and a small separate part was played by the Ragazzi Boys Chorus. They are all fine singers, and they made a gorgeous sound together: rich, layered and beautiful. The problem is that the soloists were playing an opera, while the chorus was a concert choir. It was inert operatically, though it would have been fine in a more lushly conventional concert work. It just didn’t fit with the drama-based style of the soloists. They felt as if they were from a different show.

Also perhaps from a different show were four dancers from the Sarah Bush Dance Group. They ran out during several of Carmina’s numbers to perform energetic modern dance routines that fitted the rhythm and sense of the music. They looked fine in dramatic gestures like walking on each other’s backs: it was only when they gestured toward the traditionally balletic that they looked a little less skilled.

The program was filled out with shorter works by two of the great B’s. Brahms’ mournful choruses for female voices, Op. 17, were slow and highly Brahmsian with the appropriate accompaniment of two horns and a harp. Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is intended as a lively show-stopper beginning as a piano solo and ending as a choral-orchestral work. This was an introspective version, due less to Baker’s conducting than to pianist Daniel Glover’s quiet, contemplative way with Beethoven’s florid piano writing.

Masterworks Chorale’s season concludes on May 31 and June 1 with a concert of love songs, anchored by Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes, at the Congregational Church of San Mateo.



Tags: concert, masterworks, during, opera, vieira, while,

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