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West Village Chorale adds evening of opera choruses to its Summer Sings
by John Herzfeld for Vocal Area Network
Posted June 30, 2008

Claudio MonteverdiSince Claudio Monteverdi revolutionized the performance of vocal music with his introduction of operatic style and structure in 1607, choral composers have regularly made the crossover from the church to the opera house. This summer, the West Village Chorale is celebrating that musical exchange between the sacred and the secular by introducing a first-ever program of opera choruses to its popular Summer Sings series.

To be offered Monday, July 28, the new program will be led by the Chorale's music director, Michael Conley, and will feature beloved opera choruses by the likes of Bizet, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and Wagner. Conley's prior posts include assistant conductor of the Collegiate Chorale, where he worked with some of the world's leading opera singers, and chorus master of the Connecticut Grand Opera.

Conley is still paring down the list of favorites he has assembled with the help of a West Village Chorale committee, but the preliminary slate includes the "Make Our Garden Grow" finale of Bernstein's Candide (not technically an opera, but certainly operatic); the March of the Toreadors and the Habañera from Bizet's Carmen; the Anvil Chorus from Verdi's Trovatore, the Brindisi from his Traviata, and the renowned "Va, Pensiero" from his Nabucco; and the Pilgrim's Chorus from Wagner's Tannhäuser.

And there are tantalizing mentions of Beethoven's Fidelio, Mozart's Entführung aus dem Serail, Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. "We obviously have more than we can fit into one evening, but I don't think anyone will go home unsatisfied,'' remarks Conley.

The influence of the opera house will also be felt in the rest of the West Village Chorale series, which has been running at the group's base at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields every summer since 1972.

The Early Music sing, introduced to the series in 2006, this summer will feature the monumental Vespers by none other than Monteverdi. He composed it in 1610, just three years after he delivered his pathbreaking opera L'Orfeo to his Florentine patrons. One musicologist has written that ``sacred music has never danced'' as it does in the Monteverdi Vespers.

To lead the Monteverdi, the Chorale is pleased to welcome back to its series Gwendolyn Toth, music director of the Artek ensemble and one of the city's leading early music figures. To be held on August 11, the final Monday of the 10-week series, the piece should wrap up a summer of sight-singing from the St. Luke's pews with a thrilling challenge.

Other composers featured in this summer's West Village Chorale series are no strangers to the opera house.

Mozart, who rarely returned to sacred music once his operatic works flourished in the theater, will be represented by his Mass in C Minor on June 30, Requiem on July 7, and Solemn Vespers (paired with his concise Ave Verum Corpus) on July 21. Penna Rose of Union Theological Seminary and Princeton University will lead the first Mozart program, Conley the second, and Harold Rosenbaum of the New York Virtuoso Singers the third.

Another titan of the opera, Giuseppe Verdi, is on the program July 14, when the Chorale's founder, Gwen Gould, will lead his setting of the Requiem mass. Gould, who now directs the Columbia Festival Orchestra and the Gwen Gould Ensembles upstate, returns to the series after a seven-year break. (She's the one who started this whole summer tradition at St. Luke's!)

The West Village Chorale's Summer Sings series, held at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, began June 9 and runs through August 11. For the complete schedule, visit www.westvillagechorale.org/wvcnewevents.htm. To read the Summer Sings press release, visit www.westvillagechorale.org/wvcsing08.htm.

John Herzfeld, a bass, first discovered the West Village Chorale through its Summer Sings series. He has been public relations director for the Chorale for most of his 11 seasons there.

Content Contact: John Herzfeld.
Revision Date: June 30, 2008.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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