Pro Cantare to open with `Elijah'

Chorus selects expansive Mendelssohn masterpiece to begin its 25th year


Howard Live

October 18, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Columbia Pro Cantare chorus opens its 25th anniversary season at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Jim Rouse Theatre with Felix Mendelssohn's expansive choral masterpiece Elijah.

This first Howard County performance of Mendelssohn's great Old Testament oratorio will feature soprano April-Joy Gutierrez, mezzo Mary Ann McCormick and tenor Robert McNeill.

Baritone Lester Lynch, a Pro Cantare favorite, will chastise the prophets of Baal, defy King Ahab and bring the widow's dead son back to life in the majestic title role.

A full orchestra will be conducted by Pro Cantare's founding conductor, Frances Motyca Dawson. "This is one of those special pieces that has absolutely everything," the conductor says. "It's the great opera Mendelssohn never wrote."

Premiered in Birmingham, England, in 1846 with Mendelssohn conducting an oversized orchestra of 125 and a choir of nearly 300, Elijah quickly became one of the great successes of his career.

"The last note of Elijah was drowned in a long-continued unanimous volley of plaudits, vociferous and deafening," reported a newspaper the next day. "Never was there a more complete triumph - never a more thorough and speedy recognition of a great work of art."

Elijah continues to inspire a century and a half later, as Mendelssohn's flair for drama and melody animates some of the most splendid choruses and arias ever composed.

Choruses such as the powerful "Help, Lord!" that opens the work, the uplifting "He, watching over Israel," and "Lift thine eyes," which Mendelssohn appended to the work a year after its premiere, virtually define choral excellence in the oratorio setting. With so much disciplined counterpoint anchoring such sumptuous textures, it is no wonder that Pablo Casals characterized Mendelssohn as "a great romantic who felt at ease within the mould of classicism."

Elijah's world-weary "It is enough" and Obadiah's "If with all your hearts" - to be performed by tenor McNeill, who recently soloed in a Verdi Requiem sung at the Vatican - are two of the most affecting arias in the score.

Alas, Mendelssohn lived a tragically short life, dying at age 38 on Nov. 4, 1847, just six months after the untimely death of his beloved sister, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. The sad brevity of his life lent even more credence to Robert Schumann's description of him as "the Mozart of the 19th century."

A Vienna performance of "Elijah" that he had been engaged to conduct became instead a memorial service. "Art and life," as Mendelssohn himself said, "are not two different things."

The Columbia Pro Cantare will open its anniversary season with a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" at 8 p.m. Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. It will be preceded by a free pre-performance lecture and discussion led by Paul Mathews of Peabody Institute at 7 p.m. on the Rouse Theatre stage. Tickets are $23; seniors ages 60 and older and students pay $20. A $2 surcharge will be applied to tickets purchased at the door. Credit card charges will be accepted. Season tickets for Pro Cantare's four-concert season are available for $66 (adults) and $58 (seniors and students). Information: 410-799-9321 or 410-465-5744.

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