Entering the white-walled and ceilinged sanctuary decorated throughout with red poinsettia, was only the first uplifting experience of Christmas at the Cathedral at the Noon preview on Saturday, December 3, 2016: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Congress Street at Franklin Street, Portland, ME.
Overtones are known for enhancing or forgiving from resonant cathedral recesses. They were obviously the defining ingredient of the ChoralArt presentation. This was the first time I had attended one of the 29-year-old Christmas at the Cathedral presentations and it was unforgettable.
There was nothing to forgive in this well-built program. The voices were masterfully blended by Robert Russell whose choral ensembles are known to excel. If I could have changed anything, I would have omitted the superfluous next to last number that would have kept the program to just under two hours. And I would have given showcase opportunity to a guest boy soprano to play Amahl and no more than a thirty- something singer to play his mother. Andrea Graichen's outstanding voice demands another role that is not age- specific.
Graichen's performance was superb, nevertheless. I kept waiting for her to sing "All That Gold...I wonder what rich people do with their gold" from Amahl and the Night Visitors, It is one of the best seasonal fundraisers as long as there are a few of the one per cent in the audience who feel guilty upon experiencing the poverty of Amahl and his Mother. The soprano who sang Amahl sounded like a woman and therefore by no means created the character of the boy. She was also simply miscast as her performance was exemplary.
In addition to my having seen the television premiere of the Gian Carlo Menotti opera, the experience of seeing "Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Opera North in the chancel setting of a small Vermont church was much better. An intimate setting without overwhelming overtones seemed preferable.
A nice touch toward the end of the two hour program was community singing of the first and last stanzas of two favorite Christmas carols. It made us able to feel a part of the musical experience as we responded emotionally to the dynamics of choral interpretation of the intervening stanzas while waiting to join in.
As chance would have it, I sat almost directly in front of Travis Ramsey, the composer of the world premiere work commissioned by ChoralArt to celebrate the 45th anniversary of what began as the Choral Art Society. On first hearing, the work as a whole was impressive. My nonagenarian hearing missed the words that others discerned. I should have tried to follow them from the program. However, my understanding upon reading them in advance was that they inspired the music, not that they were set to music. Not relating directly to them, the music seemed heavy for the interpretation of a children's story. Yet that comment would not apply to the first part of the opus that was based upon Psalm 139. The composer received a standing ovation. His website: www.kenmorestudios.com