Three Divas, Master Chorale Let Loose

Inside every concert choir lurks an earthier twin, the opera chorus. Saturday evening William Hall let the beast out of his Master Chorale in a Three Divas program of opera favorites at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Yet another reseeding of the Three Tenors turf, the concept was familiar and formulaic, but still fun. A troika of American sopranos--Carol Neblett, Brenda Harris and Robin Follman--traded phrases and calculated one-upmanship in some of the usual suspects from Verdi, Gounod and Puccini. The contrasts of character and voice amused, and a good time seemed to be had by all.

Those contrasts also broadly defined the solo assignments. To Neblett fell the dramatic parts--a "Ritorna vincitor" of suitably mixed emotions, a vocally frayed but nonetheless highly moving "Vissi d'arte," and a warmly caressed "Vilia."

Harris drew the coloratura, singing Fiordiligi's "Come scoglio" and Anna Bolena's final scene with extraordinary accuracy and affective grace. Coquetry came harder for her, in a rather dry Czardas from "Die Fledermaus."

That left soubrette-type parts for Follman, who vamped capably in "Quando m'en vo" from "La Boheme" and "Meine Lippen" (in English) from Lehar's "Giuditta." She also handled distraught innocence well, floating elegantly through Micaela's air from "Carmen."

The 130-voice choir participated handsomely as needed, most notably in the "Anna Bolena" scene, and took the lead in four Verdi choruses, plus the Coronation Scene from "Boris Godunov," the Chorus of the Wedding Guests from "Lucia di Lammermoor" and the "Regina Coeli" from "Cavalleria Rusticana." A surprisingly buoyant "Va pensiero" provided welcome respite from the general thunder of out-sized emotions with sound to match, including some obtrusively shouted tenor parts.

Hall kept the music moving in rhythmically alert performances and drew supportive work from the accompanying orchestra. He also served as a cheerleader in running commentary on the program.

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