Moms get plenty of good music
By Frank Merkling
NEWS-TIMES ARTS CRITIC
BETHEL The mothers to whom Tina Johns Heidrich dedicated a Mothers' Day concert by her
Connecticut Master Chorale yesterday got more than they probably bargained for.
The all-Puccini program began with a Mass, as suited the church in which it was
performed, but it ended with sheer lust.
Starting with the Messa di Gloria written by this composer at the remarkable age of 18,
the intermissionless hour-and-a-quarter closed with an encore aria from "Turandot," his
last opera, unfinished at age 66.
In between came the Humming Chorus from "Madama Butterfly" (age 46), a transcription of
an aria from "Gianni Schicchi" (60) and backtracking for a moment two excerpts from
St. Mary's, a rather severe but comfortable barn of a church, has very live acoustics
that tend to soften Heidrich's razor-sharp phrase endings. But no matter.
This conductor's hallmarks are care, precision and passion, and her 55 choristers
responded with notably good enunciation and a unity of sound that made the sopranos, for
instance, sound like one voice when heard by themselves.
Puccini's youthful Mass was written two years after the Verdi Requiem but owes its
fluent tunefulness more to Ponchielli, the younger man's teacher.
Its lively Gloria alternates between women and men, ends with a fugue and offers midway
a tenor aria (yesterday's plangent tenor was John Mark Baccus, whose highest notes go
sharp) in which you can already hear the Andrew Lloyd Webber matrix.
The Credo is more concerted and dramatic. The Sanctus contains an aria, here sung by
James Creswell in a well-placed, well-phrased bass voice, and in the brief Agnus Dei both
men join over a strolling beat.
The "Butterfly" female chorus accompanies an all-night vigil in which the heroine
awaits the return of her child's father. What stage know-how Puccini learned!
"O Mio Babbino Caro," a tiny soprano aria, suffers from being arranged for full chorus,
but the Connecticut Master Chorale sang it well if a bit slowly.
The offstage cantata from Act II of "Tosca," on the other hand, profits by being sung
on-stage even if 18 sopranos replace Tosca herself.
As for this opera's Act I finale, it is one of grand opera's grandest ensembles, a
blend of profane emotion and a sacred setting with bells on, as it were.
The 17-piece orchestra sounded Puccini's harmony to perfection.