Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea.
Traditional Christmas Carol
Although the holiday favorite was not part of the Celebration that carol's mood of surprised and joyful inquiry could be applied to the audience's response to the performance.
Curious to witness maestro Mazias Oliveira's(1) latest project, and desperate to get into the holiday spirit, Laredo's town and gown had gathered in TAMIU's Center for the Fine and Performing Arts Recital Hall, on the evening of December 3. We were not disappointed in either case.
The major work for the evening was J.S. Bach's Cantata No.142, Uns ist ein Kind geboren, commonly known as the "Christmas Cantata," featuring orchestra, chorus and soloists, and conducted by maestro Oliveira himself. The brilliant overture was lovely to hear. We could not help noticing that some of the players were on the verge of or just past puberty, nor the participation of TAMIU music faculty, Professors Gilbert Soto (double bass), Susan Berdahl (flute), Brendan Townsend (cello) and Hortensia Suarez (piano/harpsichord). The chorus and introductory offering "For us a Child is Born" lived up to the high standard set by the orchestra and Oliveira's energetic baton. And it to his credit that the joint choirs produced the beautiful, balanced tones and suitable dynamics so central to this type of performance.
The soloists also gave good accounts of themselves, with TAMIU's Rogelio Salazar tackling the first serenade to the Christ child, " Now Appears Thy Natal Day." This budding baritone lacked some of the depth and even tone of the seasoned professional but his confident interpretation and effective phrasing were noteworthy. The tenor, Montemorelos' Efrain Piedra, was light and lyrical, showed all the signs of more experience performer in "Lord, My Thanks to Thee" making a real connection with the audience. Perhaps my favorite soloist was TAMIU's contralto Rachel Ramirez, whose hypnotic rendering of "Lord I Sing Thy Name" made her stand out. Although her phrasing was sometimes uneven, her beatific expression, honeyed tones and stance did wonders for her performance. The major work climaxed in the glorious "Alleluia," giving the chorus a chance to show off its range, flexibility and endurance.
The second half of the program was a delightful contrast to the first. The harpsichord was replaced by the piano, and a stronger sense of inclusion prevailed, as the singers sometimes abandoned the stage and embraced the audience in a novel combination of stereo and surround sound. This new "movement" was particularly apt for the call and response feature of the "Panis Angelicus," anchored by a moving rendition by McAllen's soprano soloist Elphis Stirewalt. Next we got a chance to hear the choirs individually, beginning with the 12-member TAMIU group and "What Wondrous Love." The singers strolled reverently back to the stage intoning Paul Christiansen's inspirational acapella arrangement of this traditional southern folk hymn. By way on contrast, the Christian Procantus punctuated their return to the stage with the earnest longing of Manz' "E'en So Lord Quickly Come."
Maintaining this section's features movement and surprise, the male singers left the stage, making way for Adams' "Oh Holy Night," with Oliveira and the Women's Chorus, under the baton of maestro Brendan Townsend (conductor for the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra, in his other incarnation). This favorite soared to its beautiful climax, and seemed to hang in the air for just a moment before the audience erupted into thunderous applause. Now the ladies left the stage, lighting candles on the way while maestro Oliveira and TAMIU's soprano soloist set the mood for Yon's "Jesu Bambino," featuring the flute section of the orchestra, once more with Townsend. While an initially diffident Cardenas was no match for the maestro, her brilliant voice and beautifully phrased lines gradually rose to the occasion, and the result was a joy to hear.
Handel's "Hallelujah chorus brought the evening's entertainment to a fitting finale. Now the audience was enveloped in sound and candlelight, as the joint choir marched down the aisles to the stage. Here was another expression of beauty and a test of endurance. The "Joint Is Jumping" is the title of a Fatts Waller piece and album, but on this occasion, the jazz master had nothing on Handel. I mean, the auditorium fairly rocked! Oliveira's energetic conducting, the contained ballet of the instruments balanced by the animated players, the chorus with a voice as big as the sea, and the delighted audience singing and /or responding rhythmically to this powerful call to the dance. It was total theater. And when the anticipated climax was achieved, to a standing ovation, we did it again.
At the end of the show, I think everybody breathed sigh of satisfaction, in an atmosphere of surprised joy. Many audience members rushed to the stage to greet and congratulate the conductor and the performers. I am confident that maestro Oliveira's Spring 2005 projects, the opera Cavalleria rusticana, and Easter oratorio From Olivet to Calvary will be even more successful.
Dr. Ezra Engling is professor of Spanish at TAMIU, and an advanced voice (tenor) student of Dr. Oliveira's at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts.
If you are interested in joining the TAMIU Chorale, please click here!
(1) Maestro Mazias de Oliveira, who has logged more than 100 performances of this work in the USA, Mexico and Brazil, is the newly appointed Assistant Professor of Music, in charge of the Voice, Choir and Opera Division at Texas A & M International University (TAMIU). A Brazilian tenor of national and international renown, he has been performing with success as soloist with orchestras in Brazil, the USA and Mexico, and has toured extensively in those countries with different opera companies. Puccini, Verdi, Mozart's and Verdi's Requiems, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the Latin American premiere of Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio are jut a few of the pieces that best reflect his diverse repertoire. Dr. Oliveira He received a Doctor of Music at Indiana University, and a Master's degree in Voice Performance at Andrews University. During the academic year of 2002-2003, he was a Visiting Scholar at Indiana University, where he worked on his post-doctoral project in Opera and Stage, under the advice of his mentor, Dr. Vincent Liotta.