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The Greensboro Symphony, under the baton of Artistic Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky, joined forces with the Bel Canto Company, which was prepared by its Artistic Director Welborn Young. Add three able soloists, and you have all you need for a strong performance of one of the great oratorios of all times, Haydn’s The Creation.
The oratorio is in three parts. The first section depicts the creation of the earth and plants; the second praises animals, including the formation of man; the finale deals with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The sources for the text come from the Bible (Genesis) and John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. The work was published in 1800 in both English and German, and the most obvious musical influence is Handel’s oratorios, which Haydn heard during his London visits in the late 18th century.
The performance took place in Dana Auditorium on the Guilford College campus, and the three soloists joined the orchestra on the stage. The chorus was positioned in the audience, orchestra left and right, as close to the stage as possible.
The soloists, tenor Andrew Bidlack, soprano Brittany Robinson, and bass-baritone Eric Downs. represent archangels Uriel, Gabriel, and Raphael, respectively, in Parts One and Two, as well as Adam and Eve in part Three.
The opening orchestral “Representation of Chaos” is a tour-de-force of music painting, with extreme chromaticism representing the void out of which the universe comes into existence. Then begins a succession of solo recitatives and arias interspersed with choral numbers. Downs firmly set the stage with his “In the beginning,” and the chorus set up the great C major chord climax “And there was light.”
Bidlack’s strong, lovely voice was a delight to hear throughout the evening, starting with the recitative “And God saw the light,” continuing when he sang in the trio “In fairest raiment now,” and especially in his arias, such as “In native worth.” Clear high notes, terrific diction, and engagement in the music were his strong suits.
Robinson’s singing was stunningly beautiful. Her arias of “With verdure clad” and “On mighty wings” were some of the musical highlights of the evening. Her range and lovely timbre were especially impressive.
Downs’ voice certainly could plunge the depths, as when he sang “Sinuous trace, the worm.” Sometimes he sang a bit too softly to be heard throughout the hall, and intonation issues detracted from his overall performance.
The placement of the chorus was a bit problematic. The full force of the loud passages was not delivered; indeed sometimes the orchestral playing overshadowed what should have been clear and strong singing.
The concert was supposed to have taken place in UNCG’s Aycock Auditorium on Thursday night, where everyone could have been accommodated on the stage. That concert was cancelled because of snow. Thus, the large audience (Thursday and Saturday combined) filled the auditorium, and the crowd soaked up some sound.
Be that as it may, the chorus sang with a great deal of fervor and passion. The famous “The heavens are telling” and “The Lord is great,” with the trio of soloists, were terrific. The final “Sing to God” was rousing, and Bidlack, Robinson, and Downs were joined by BCC alto Jolynda Bowers to complete the required quartet of soloists singing along with the choir.
For the most part, the orchestra accompanied the singing in good fashion, although sometimes a bit too loudly. Maestro Sitkovetsky seemed to be sympathetic to the demands of the singers, especially the soloists. Providing solid accompaniment for the recitatives were Nancy Johnston (harpsichord) and Beth Vanderborgh (cello).