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Read My Lips

January 26, 2009

The Los Angeles Master Chorale
Photo: mine 2009

The Los Angeles Master Chorale continued its current season on Sunday with a performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah centered around should-be superstar Eric Owens. It was so close to a home run that it pains me to complain about a minor, if significant, problem. Though it’s in English from a Biblical source, there was no text or supertitles available for the audience. (Or at least none that I could find.) And despite some very fine singing, the bottom line is that if you didn’t know the piece already, you were pretty much screwed for the next couple of hours in terms of what was actually going on. It was a very good performance, but it would have been a great one with a text to interpret what was going on.

Robert MacNeil, Eric Owens, Diana Tash, and Mary Wilson with Grant Gershon
Photo: mine 2009

OK. Now that I've got that out of my system, let's move on and talk about the spectacular performance from the members of the Chorale. For a group so associated with more contemporary works, hearing them go full-throttle at a canonical piece like this with so much passion, control, and skill was a thrill. What’s more, the Chorale is finally getting the kind of orchestral support they deserve as the orchestra now is heavily populated with members of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra. The ties that bind between the Chorale and the Opera apparently grow stronger and stronger now that Grant Gershon, the LAMC’s music director has taken over as chorus master and Assistant Conductor for the LAO. Tonight, at least for the audience, it was a win/win situation as the orchestra actually lived up to the quality of the Chorale for one of the first times in recent memory.

The soloists were all of high caliber including Robert MacNeil, Mary Wilson, and Diana Tash. But, of course, the heaviest lifting was provided by Owens, whose booming, regal voice was as majestic at times as it was sensitive at others. He continues to be one of the few vocalists I look forward to hearing due to the consistently excellent quality of his performances. He should be a much bigger star than he is already. Of course, it would have been nice to actually know exactly what he was singing while he was singing it, but I guess that will have to wait for an opera stage somewhere in the future.



I was thinking about that text problem: even a synopsis would have been very useful if you don't already know the story of Elijah. Mendelssohn's telling of the story is a tad elliptical in places.

Still, the singing was thrilling on all sides. And the orchestra much much better than anything they normally put together.
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