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The Choral Society of Greensboro sang a powerful and dramatic performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s beloved oratorio, Elijah in the large sanctuary of Christ United Methodist Church, overflowing with an attentive and appreciative audience. CSG conductor Jon Brotherton led the large chorus and the accompanying orchestra of 30+ players. Baritone Robert Overman matched the verve of the chorus in his singing of the role of Elijah. Other soloists included soprano Tara Sperry, mezzo-soprano Kayla Brotherton, tenor Christopher Hairston, and boy soprano Donovan Elliott.
Mendelssohn wrote Elijah in 1846 for the Birmingham Festival in England; although the original language was German, the premiere was sung in English translation. The large choral works of Bach and Handel were clearly the influences on Mendelssohn, but the 35-year old composer imbued Elijah with romantic fervor, frequently etching out the dramatic events in the life of the prophet in vivid detail.
The oratorio begins with a recitative pronouncement by Elijah of an upcoming drought, fitting punishment for a wayward people. Then the orchestra plunges into a dark overture that Brotherton conducted as if he were stirring up hellfire.
The large choral movements are the heart and soul of the oratorio, and the GCS sang like gangbusters — loud and full out in the passionate and dramatic passages, and tender and lyric in the more gentle moments. The chorus was extremely well prepared, and diction was quite good; very impressive heartfelt singing from the amateur choir of approximately 150 voices.
This is obviously a work of love for Brotherton — one could sense his intense commitment to the work. He led the chorus, orchestra and soloists with a dramatic conducting style that goaded the singers to give their all. The choir certainly kept up its part of the bargain. Brisk tempi and fine orchestral playing were the standard for the evening, resulting in a moving and emotional presentation.
A lovely respite from the adult mixed choir was found in the Trio “Lift thine eyes to the mountains,” which was sung by the Greensboro Youth Chorus. Conductor Ann Doyle lovingly led the youth who were singing as angels from the rear balcony of the sanctuary.
Robert Overman is a powerful singer who also has a good sense of theater and the drama involved in this work. Portraying Elijah as a sturdy and resolute prophet, his voice demanded attention. The baritone’s diction was excellent, which resulted in easily understood text.
Tarry Sperry represented the roles of a widow and an angel in her singing, and in many aspects her singing was indeed angelic. Sometimes her vibrato was a bit wider than one might have liked, but she sang the roles with sincerity. Kayla Brotherton also represented two characters, an angel and Queen Jezebel. Her dark timbre provided good contrast to Sperry.
Christopher Hairston’s light voice was distinctively different from Overman’s; one could have asked for a bit more core to the sound for more substantial singing. Donovan Elliot fittingly sang the role of a youth; his clear and light soprano voice was a delight.
For the record, there were some moments when ensemble between orchestra and the voices was not perfect. A few passages, especially noticeable at the end of sections, seemed to wobble a bit out of synch. However, this small detail is a venial sin compared to the overall fine quality of the hour-and-a-half undertaking.