The Irvine-based Pacific Chorale made its reputation singing full-size choral works with orchestra, but it has long been director John Alexander's dream to have his singers appear in chamber-size pieces as well.
On Sunday, a portion of the 140-voice chorale will team with Ballet Pacifica for a program at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. It is the first collaboration between the two groups at the center.
"Movement can enhance music," Alexander said. "I don't think all choral performances should be that way, but once in awhile I think it's good for an audience to have something to see besides people singing."
The program will include Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore," as choreographed by Michael Kane; Brahms' "Liebeslieder Waltzes," choreographed by James Jones; Norman Dello Joio's "Come to Me, My Love," by David Allan, and Libby Larsen's "The Settling Years," by Ballet Pacifica director Molly Lynch.
"I started with the idea of Menotti's piece," Alexander said, "then built the program around doing it. We actually did the piece with Ballet Pacifica in the late '70s at Santa Ana High School.
"It's one of the best works for a chamber chorale, and it's also one of Menotti's best works. He called it 'a madrigal fable.' It tells a very human story, and there's a moral."
The story is about a poet who brings a unicorn to town and finds that soon everyone wants a unicorn. A week later, he brings a gorgon, and everyone kills their unicorn because they want to have a gorgon.
"The cycle repeats with the manticore," Alexander said. "But the poet never kills any of his animals because they're a part of his being. The moral is that we cannot kill off the good things in our life and that imitation is not necessary for us to have our own selves."
Gorgons and manticores , incidentally, are mythological beasts that are part human and part animal. Costumes for the ballet will be by Rhonda Earick.
Alexander will lead a chamber chorus consisting of 30 singers, who sing mostly a cappella, and a small wind ensemble that plays between the choral sections.
"Menotti was very much influenced by Renaissance madrigals," Alexander said. "The text, which he wrote, is basically quite clear. There are homophonic sections that tell the story, then you get into polyphonic sections that are reminiscent of madrigal style. It's really a wonderful piece."
* What: Pacific Chorale collaborates with Ballet Pacifica.
* When: Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m.
* Where: The Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
* Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue exit north. Turn right from Bristol onto Town Center Drive.
* Wherewithal: $15 to $90.
* Where to call: (714) 556-2787.