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May Festival Enjoys Powerful Opening Night

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: May 19, 2001 - 8:56:55 PM in archives

(first published in The Cincinnati Post May 19, 2001)

Music Hall brought forth the May Festival Friday night and it was good.

Apologies to Holy Writ, the festival's opening night performance of Haydn's oratorio "The Creation" made a joyful noise indeed. Music director James Conlon separated the light from the darkness, the May Festival Chorus and soloists sang like angels, and the Cincinnati Symphony mirrored the sounds of the firmament eloquently.

A crowd of 2,500 turned out for the event, some in formal wear in the tradition of the 127-year-old festival. While not a full house, it was an encouraging one in view of the April riots in Over-the-Rhine. Like Saturday night's near sell-out for the CSO and retiring music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos, attendance at "The Creation" augurs well for a successful 2001 festival.

Soloists in the Haydn included soprano Pamela Coburn, a Dayton native raised in Cincinnati, making her May Festival debut. A leading opera and concert singer worldwide, the versatile Ms. Coburn proclaimed the angel Gabriel's words with a rich and supple voice, as she did Eve's in part three of the work. Her Adam, and also the angel Raphael was bass-baritone Kristinn Sigmundsson, a singer with a broad vocal and expressive range. His description of the elemental void was crafted in veiled tones that held listeners rapt with expectation, and he negotited an awesome lower octave on "Gewurm" at the end of his aria "Gleich offnet sich der Erde Schoss" ("Strait opening her fertile womb").

The peerless John Aler sang the angel Uriel with seraphic tone, keen inflection, and sheer joy. The three were well matched in ensembles, Ms. Coburn's voice pealing above the chorus in "Der Herr ist gross in seine Macht" ("The Lord is great and great His might").

The centerpiece of the May Festival is always the May Festival Chorus, which met its singular obligation with distinction, light and euphoric one moment ("und eine neue Welt," "a new world"), solid and ringing the next ("Stimmt an die Saiten," "Awake the harp").

Conlon led the reduced CSO with precision and gusto, creating lean, classic textures with detail. The opening "Chaos" was a marvel, with its muted strings and meandering lines, and there wasn't an item of creation that wasn't given the full Technicolor expression Haydn wrote into it.

The festival continues at 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall with Bach's B Minor Mass, 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Plum Street Temple with Viktor Ullmann's chamber opera "The Kaiser of Atlantis."