by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, presented its final Choral Evensong of the season Sunday afternoon, June 1. The roster of choral works included two scores by Orlando Gibbons, the first great truly Anglican composer for the reformed Church of England, and one by the contemporary American, Stephen Paulus. The service was opened and closed by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and then the Fugue in E-flat major, played by Erik Meyer, the parish’s music director.
One of the singular pleasures I’ve experienced as the Chestnut Hill Local’s classical music critic since 1986 is having watched and heard the development of the local music community, how individual musicians have grown and how the music made in Chestnut Hill has become a beacon for the entire region.
During the nearly three years since he first came to St. Martin’s Church and throughout the three liturgical seasons of Choral Evensongs I’ve heard him lead, Erik Meyer has become a finer and finer organist, choir director and musician.
His performance of Bach Prelude in E-flat major at the start of the Evensong and his rendition of its companion Fugue at the conclusion were ample proof of his prowess and musicality as an organist. He chose registrations for the Prelude that were tonally clean and bright, played with clarity of touch, set a festive mood, established a tempo that was unhurried yet that flowed through Bach’s inventive manipulations of the Prelude’s many themes. In the Fugue, he offered a seamless line of discernible development from one section to the next all the way through until the brilliant climax and resolution, laying out Bach’s symmetrical structure with masterful command.
By the time England’s Orlando Gibbons was born in 1583, the religious turmoil of the earlier decades of the 16th century had been resolved. The violence of King Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of his desire to divorce Queen Catherine (of Aragon), the full move into Protestantism by his son Edward VI, and the return to Catholicism by his elder daughter “Bloody” Queen Mary had been resolved by the establishment of the reformed Church of England during the reign of his younger daughter Elizabeth I.
Gibbons’ settings of the “Magnificat” (My soul doth magnify the Lord) and the “Nunc Dimittis” (Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace) are among the first set in the English language of the new Anglican Church rather than in the Latin of the old faith, that of the Church of Rome. Both scores project the text simply, so that it can be accessible on first hearing. The former is celebratory while the latter is more reflective. Both were sung with exceptional care regarding pitch, blend, balance, diction and phrasing. The rendition given the afternoon’s offertory anthem, Stephen Paulus’ “Even before we call on your name,” was even more memorable for Meyer’s use of a lilting rubato that speeded up here and then slowed down there.
The choir’s singing and Meyer’s conducting and playing were a fitting culmination of the liturgical season and a promising preface to its pilgrimage to England later in July.
The Delaware Valley Opera Company (DVOC) will open its 2014 summer season of fully staged operas with Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” The production will be presented June 14, 18 & 21 at 8 p.m. in the Stage One Performing Arts Center, located at 101 Plush Mill Rd. in Wallingford, Delaware County.
DVOC’s mounting will be stage directed by Sandra Hartman of Roxborough. Joyce Brommer, also of Roxborough, is her assistant stage director. The cast includes Brynn Terry of Roxborough as Constanza, Elizabeth Oliver of Roxborough as Blonde and Tim Oliver of Roxborough as Pedrillo.
“The Abduction from the Seraglio” (“Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” in the original German) is considered a “singspiel” (sing & speak) rather than an opera because it has extended passages of spoken dialogue. In that respect it is similar to operettas such as Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat), the popular works of Gilbert and Sullivan such as “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Pirates of Penzance,” and the classic Broadway musicals such as “Showboat,” “South Pacific,” “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story.”
The libretto for “Abduction” was written by Christoph Friedrich Gretzner and adapted and enlarged by Gottlieb Stephanie. It received its world premiere in Vienna’s Burgtheater July 16, 1782. It was an immediate success, moving to Prague later that same year, then on to Warsaw, Bonn, Frankfurt and Leipzig the following year. The first performance in English took place in London in 1827, and it was first performed in German in New York City in 1860.
Although the story of “Abduction” strains believability at every turn, Mozart’s score is a delightful romp through the catalogue of the 18th century’s turns of exoticism when dealing with the weakened state of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul). Disguises and rescues are the order of the day.
For ticket information and directions visit www.dvopera.org.