A Night at the Opera, A Day Full of Graces
Preview by Betsy Schwarm
Conductor/Artistic Director Kelly Parmenter confirms what some readers will have surmised: the program title is a Marx Brothers reference. That is not to suggest that the May concerts to be presented by The Colorado Choir feature manic and irreverent moods. However, there are certainly operatic selections (including the Anvil Chorus, so famously associated with Groucho and Company), though the second half of the program evokes grace and joy.
Planning for the program began two years ago. Originally, it was to be all operatic: there’s plenty of choral material in that genre. Then the world went mad, and Parmenter, seeing a need for what she calls “hopeful, uplifting influences,” altered the intention. Operatic material was to be confined to the first half, with generally calm, restorative selections – offering ‘grace’ – on the second half. Thus, Gilbert and Sullivan, Verdi, Puccini, Delibes, and Offenbach are balanced by serene and rapturous non-operatic works, largely from the 20th and 21st centuries.
The operatic half includes material familiar even to those who might have never seen the operas from which the selections were chosen. The famously boisterous Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore (1853) will be juxtaposed to the gentle patience of the Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904). The Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakme (1883) brings peaceful musings of gathering flowers by the streamside. Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata (1853) offers revelry and thoughts of new love in a waltz-like drinking song for a joyful gathering.
The latter two selections include solo voices. Arianne Beckman and Faith Prager will be the soprano soloists for the Flower Duet; Brindisi requires not two women, but rather a soprano and a tenor. Here, due to changes in choir membership, Parmenter found it necessary to step up herself and take on Violetta’s music; the part of her admirer, Alfredo, will be sung by Parmenter’s brother Mick Parmenter. The conductor notes that she has not sung with the choir since becoming its conductor, and does not imagine this will be the start of a trend. However, one can fairly suppose she’ll enjoy the chance to raise not just her heart with her singers, but her voice as well.
The other two operatic selections – heard first and last on this half of the program – will likely be new discoveries for most listeners. Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (1879) is known for its rowdy buccaneers and nimble patter songs; in that context, the brief, almost reverent Hail Poetry chorus is sometimes overlooked. As for Offenbach, his La jolie parfumeuse (1873) is an opéra comique concerning a pretty perfume seller and the fellow she loves. Their acquaintances are a convivial lot, as the chatty, waltz-like Neighbor’s Chorus proves.
Hail Poetry and Neighbor’s Chorus appear on the program thanks to a long-standing friendship. The Colorado Choir’s conductor Kelly Parmenter describes her late colleague Russell T. Hillock as a “musical soulmate” with whom she frequently discussed repertoire. With Hillock’s suggestions and Parmenter’s concurrence, these choices were short-listed, needing only a suitable program in which to include them. The chance has arrived!
After intermission comes the ‘day full of graces’ half of the program title. Sacred selections represent the catalogs of F. Melius Christiansen and Peter Lutkin, joined by the spiritual My Lord, What a Morning. For a broader sense of what ‘grace’ might be, Parmenter has chosen Ivor Davies’ Prayer of the Cat, setting a text by French poet Carmen de Gasztold. Surely cats are graceful, as are Gasztold’s verses and Davies’ music.
Two 21st century selections stand late in the program. Chilcott’s In the Heart of the World (2002), featuring soloist Faith Neal, is a tribute to the healing power of song. By contrast, If Music Be the Food of Love (2001) by David C. Dickau sets a text from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Bard’s words suggest that music is perhaps less healing than conducive to joy. In both works, and in the program as a whole, conductor Parmenter sees a central theme: “Happiness, gratitude, enjoying the simple things, working together, playing together, humor, kindness and the power of music.” Each of those notions is an admirable goal.
How does one organize a program packed with so many little jewels? Parmenter says it’s like “a family reunion. Everyone arrives and there is hugging and excited voices and the party starts, but late in the evening as you sit around a campfire, that is when you share memories, reflections, hopes and dreams. And when it is time to go, the hugs are warm and accompanied by wishes of health and wellbeing. Everyone is filled with a sense of belonging and acceptance and looks forward to the next gathering.” With such a wealth of musical charms, and a renewed chance to come together over music, the audience is likely to share the performers’ feelings.
The Colorado Choir will give two performances of A Night at the Opera, A Day Full of Graces. These will be Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, beginning at 7:30 PM and held at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda, Denver 80246. This represents a venue change from the previously announced location. Tickets are available here:
For The Colorado Choir, music is not only ‘the food of love.’ It is also a wellspring of expression, community, and fulfillment, expressing reborn hopes. The ensemble believes its A Night at the Opera, A Day Full of Graces program can prove to be as heart-warming for listeners as for performers.