Music Review by Geraldine Freedman, Daily Gazette, Sunday, May 21, 2017
The Burnt Hills Oratorio Society closed its season Friday night at Zankel Music Center with a powerful, and dramatic reading of Mendelssohn’s oratorio masterpiece, “Elijah.”
When the almost 2 1/2-hour work premiered in 1846 with a libretto based on I Kings XVII-XIX, the audience was so ecstatic with the piece that they demanded eight sections be repeated. No wonder. The music is gorgeous, throbs with color, is easy to listen to and is very dynamic as it follow the life of this Old Testament prophet. To make it work BHOS director William Jon Gray needed an Elijah, who could convey the libretto’s dark lines with fire and brimstone.
He found him in bass baritone Adrian Rosas. Rosas galvanized with a ringing, powerful, edged, dark voice that carried easily over the 65-voice chorus, the eight soloists from Auriel Camerata and the 21-member orchestra. His intensity, passion and emphatic delivery were unrelenting in a role that demanded exception stamina. An added bonus was that his diction was excellent, even with the English super-titles.
The chorus was equally invigorated from the opening scene as it represented the Israelites, the followers of Baal, and Bringers of the Word of God or Commentators.
Gray has been the chorus’ director only since last year but he’s done an exceptional job with balance, diction and rhythmic precision. Only when the entire ensemble was at full volume did the chorus’s words get muddied. Yet their ability to control dynamic levels was impressive. Although much of the time the chorus sang at loud levels, the singers were very effective when softer passages were required.
Gray’s rehearsal techniques must also be efficient because this performance was extremely disciplined, which allowed him to conduct with confidence.
The soloists from the Camerata were uniformly very good and sang with convincing passion. Those that took an aria included soprano Carla Fisk, mezzo-soprano Maria Bedo, mezzo-sopranon Ann Marie Adamick, and soprano Meghan Zuver. Tenor Alexander Turpin as Obadiah especially had several arias and he was very strong with superb diction and excellent line.
Becuase this oratorio required such large forces, Gray was able to feature this year’s Vocal Scholarship winners. Soprano Marissa Scotti from Guilderland High School and soprano Alicia Esposito from Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake High School sang a few solo lines. The orchestra was accurate, well-balanced and rarely over-whelmed the singers.