Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and the Greater Buffalo Opera Company got together Tuesday evening to present a most unusual benefit concert for the Opera Company's Educational Outreach Program.
Until Tuesday, the only Wagner I'd ever heard in church was the "Wedding March From Lohengrin" ("Here Comes the Bride"). Well, the entire first half of this concert was devoted to excerpts from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg" and "Die Walkure." As a substitute for a pit orchestra, James Bigham (billed as a "one-man orchestra") played Holy Trinity's splendid five-manual Wendt organ.
Things got off to a rousing, high-decibel start with Bigham's rendition of the overture to "Die Meistersinger." This had tremendous visceral impact and some nice simulacra of the original orchestration. It was a refreshing experience, like first hearing Bach on the Moog synthesizer.
The lovely "Meistersinger Quintette" that came next had as its standout the soprano Beth Barrow-Titus, a last-minute substitute who sang with utter confidence.
The "Love Duet From Die Walkure" served as a showcase for Gary Burgess' excellent singing and musicianship. (Burgess is the artistic director of the Greater Buffalo Opera Company.) Millie Staley's Sieglinde was initially overpowered by the accompaniment, but she later demonstrated a rich tone and impassioned delivery.
"The Ride of the Valkyries," (used in the film "Apocalypse Now" and years ago, in the old Buck Rogers serial) finished the first half. Eight soloists, plus Bigham negotiating an intricate part, added up to an amazing performance. The Holy Trinity Concert Choir was featured in the second half. About 40 strong, this group achieves a nicely-blended sound and sings well in tune. Even on the high B flat that ends the "Humming Chorus" from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly," their pitch was secure.
The duet from Bizet's relatively unknown but gloriously tuneful "The Pearl Fishers" received a beautiful performance from Brian Zunner and Burgess. Zunner was quite strong as Mephistopheles in the "Apotheosis Scene" from Gounod's "Faust," which also featured soprano Mary Kay Barrington and tenor Velmer Headley. Headley, in addition to being a fine singer, is professor of mathematics at Brock University. Zunner is a dentist.
The final ensemble from Verdi's astonishing Shakespearean comedy, "Falstaff" (astonishing because Verdi was 80 years old when he completed it), brought the evening to a spirited conclusion. Its polyphonic intricacy was blurred by the church acoustics, but its tremendous brio came across.
Grand Opera and the Organ
Excerpts from operas by Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Gounod and Puccini featuring organist-choirmaster James Bigham, the Holy Trinity Concert Choir and soloists from the Greater Buffalo Opera Company.
Tuesday evening at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.