Choral fans will have to make a hard choice this Sunday. The Octavo Singers will open their season, even as the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society will open its.
“I don’t know how that happened,” said Susan Fedak, the director for BHOS. “I’ll have to call Curtis [Funk, Octavo director].”
It may be that fans will have to decide on which program they’d prefer to hear: The Octavo is singing Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria” and Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” while the BHOS is singing music of Randall Thompson and Z. Randall Stroope. Whatever fans choose, both directors are thrilled with their choruses and what they’ll sing.
“It’s really exciting,” Funk said. “We’re at 96 voices — the largest ever. Also cool is that it is the Octavo with a 15-piece orchestra and no organ.”
Burnt Hills Oratorio Society
WHERE: Bethesda Episcopal Church, 41 Washington St., Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20, $10
MORE INFO: 373-8170, www.bhos.us
Even better, he said, is that the chorus is back at Union College in a hall that the singers know. The concert represents a new collaboration between the chorus and the college.
“They’re interested in having students be aware of the Octavo and have it as part of their college studies — to have them become members,” Funk said.
Since the chorus has a large core of singers and usually attracts new members by word of mouth, this effort should spike the numbers especially when the “Messiah” is sung, he said.
This is Funk’s second season with the Octavos after taking over when longtime director George Moross died.
“In my first year, I didn’t want to make too many changes, but I did want to put my fingerprint on it,” he said.
He changed the concert dress for the women from white blouses and black skirts to all black dresses and began to explore other venues, which resulted in concerts at the 1st Reformed Church of Scotia, St. John the Evangelist and St. Luke’s Roman Catholic Church. The last two were new venues for the chorus — something he wants to continue to do, he said. He also decided to expand the chorus’s repertoire from the favored requiems that had been done over the years to the types of works on this concert.
The “Messa di Gloria” was Puccini’s graduation thesis from the Instituto Musicale Pacini and was first performed in 1880 in Lucca, Italy. It will feature tenor John Spinelli, one of the Octavo’s own singers, and bass Steve Dehlin. It is 45 minutes long.
“It’s very Italian, almost Verdi-esque and gorgeous,” Funk said.
The Rossini was written over a 10-year span after he’d retired from composing operas. Six of the sections were composed by Giovanni Tadolini. The complete work was first performed in 1842 in Paris. It will feature Spinelli, Dehlin, soprano Jean Leonard and mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell. Although it is based on a 20-line poem about Mary standing at the base of the cross, the music is anything but sorrowful.
“It’s delightful music and doesn’t match the text,” Funk said.
Rossini was widely criticized, especially by Wagner, for attempting to commercialize religion, but Rossini retorted that the “Stabat Mater” was opera’s gift to the church.
“It’s a powerhouse, a titanic ending,” Funk said. “We’ll go out with a bang.”
BHOS’s program is much more secular, a good fit for Fedak, who is having her first season as director after longtime director Rand Reeves retired. Fedak, who is a mezzo-soprano and still has an active career as a soloist in numerous local venues, wanted works that were new to the chorus. In fact, Stroope’s work was new to her, she said, and came as a suggestion from the president of the BHOS board. Stroope, a composer and conductor, currently heads the choral studies program at Oklahoma State University.
“The pieces are rich harmonically and very tonal. They lie well in the vocal ranges and are romantic,” she said.
The chorus will sing “How Can I Keep From Singing?”; “You Are the Love of My Soul,” which will be sung in Spanish; “Sure on This Shining Night”; and “We Beheld Once Again the Stars,” which is based on Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and will be sung in Italian. What makes these songs notable is that Stroope calls for a divided chorus, Fedak said.
This means the 78-member chorus will be divided into chorus 1 and chorus 2. Each will have the usual four vocal ranges and they’ll all sing the same music. This is rather than having each vocal range massed together as is typical.
“It gives a different aural sensation,” Fedak said. “It’s like having alternate choirs and is not done too often. The chorus likes it. It’s different.”
The Thompson works include “Choose Something Like a Star” from his “Frostiana,” “Alleluia,” and the eight movements of “The Peaceable Kingdom,” which is based on words from Isaiah about good and evil.
Opportunity to teach
Being the director of the chorus after having spent the last two years as its associate director carries huge responsibilities, Fedak said, but it now gives her the chance to indulge her big passion: to teach the singers vocal techniques.
“A big pleasure is learning how to sing,” she said. “I want them to learn the basic techniques.”
Among the issues she’s focusing on this season besides diction, articulation and dynamics are to have the singers explore the sounds they can make and achieve a real blend. Of the pieces on the program, the most challenging will be “The Peaceable Kingdom.”
“The chorus needs to count a lot and the cutoffs are tricky,” she said. “It’s more difficult than a Mass. They need to know the music well.”
The concert marks the first time the chorus will sing at Bethesda Episcopal Church, where Alfred Fedak will play on the famous Casavant pipe organ. Also performing will be Rebecca Rogers and Alexandra Rizzo, the two singers who won the annual BHOS High School Vocal Competition.