Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Sing-along Requiem

By , 18/07/2009

Requiem by Verdi

The Orpheus Choir, enlarged with a massed chorus, conducted by Michael Fulcher

John Wells (organ) and Fiona McCabe (piano).

Soloists: Janey Mackenzie, Annabelle Cheetham, Richard Greager and Justin Pearce

Wellington Town Hall, Saturday 18 July

The Orpheus Choir has been staging a Singalong or Come’n’sing performance of a major choral masterpiece for as long as I’ve been writing reviews – over two decades. It’s always been popular, a wonderful way of meeting unfulfilled singing ambitions.

If the audience was not as big as you’d expect for Verdi’s Requiem (its first performance in Wellington for eight years) , which fills theatres anywhere in the world, it was because so many of the potential audience were on stage singing. The choir totaled nearly 300.

One might have expected a few weaknesses, but the result of solid rehearsal under Michael Fulcher, Friday evening and all day Saturday achieved a performance of energy, clean attack and ensemble and confidence: its very opening pages were highly impressive.

Signs of the times lay, rather, in the fact that an organ (Auckland City organist John Wells) rather than an orchestra accompanied, with sections for solo voices accompanied by Fiona McCabe at the piano. An orchestra would have been better, but it would have added unaffordable cost. (Help came from a subsidized Town Hall rental and from the city’s Creative Communities fund). Both organ and piano were more than adequate and there were many times (the piano with the four soloists in the Offertorio) when their contributions were most satisfying.

The soloists might not have been New Zealand’s top opera voices, but their performances varied from pretty good to surprisingly excellent. Justin Pearce was clearly nervous at this big assignment, but by the Confutatis Maledictis his voice had settled, admirably fitting the sense of that movement.

Professionally experienced mezzo Annabelle Cheetham and tenor Richard Greager (who stood in for John Beaglehole at short notice) were the most polished. Cheetham shone in the Recordare and Lux aeterna. The tenor’s main outing is the aria common in opera aria collections, the Ingemisco; better suited to his timbre were his parts in the Rex Tremendae, the Offertorio.

Janey Mackenzie sang her soprano role very engagingly: she had a successful duet with Cheetham in the Agnus Dei, and then astonished me with her penetrating, high-lying solo, floating above the choir in the latter stages of the Libera Me: there was nothing better than the conclusion with that varied, magnificent, beautifully controlled movement.

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