HARTFORD – The Hartford Chorale’s production of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” promises intense drama, compelling dialogue and inspiring music. The performance on April 14 at the Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall represents a rare opportunity to hear this major work in the Greater Hartford area.
“It is with much excitement that the Hartford Chorale, for the first time in its 44-year history, will perform and produce this bigger-than-life masterpiece,” said Richard Coffey, music director for the Hartford Chorale.
Mr. Coffey will conduct more than 220 performers, including the Hartford Chorale, Hartford Symphony Orchestra and Connecticut Children’s Chorus’s Primi Voci Choir, for this performance. “Elijah” is an epic oratorio, or larger-scale musical composition, that premiered in 1846.
“‘Elijah’ is the only oratorio that ever rivaled Handel’s ‘Messiah’ in popularity. It is larger relative to the instrumentation,” said Mr. Coffey.
The production is described as a near opera in that it tells a story but without props, scenery or elaborate costumes. The libretto or text of the long vocal work will be sung in English.
“All of the words are Scripture,” said Mr. Coffey. “The backbone of the libretto comes from some of the fieriest of Old Testament Scripture, the Books of Kings. It [provides] tenderness, intrigue and spectacular contests. Moments of repose are followed by ferocious action.
“Some of the most memorable music of all time is found in ‘Elijah,’” he said.
Featured soloists are baritone Stephen L. Bryant, as Elijah; soprano Meechot Marrero; alto Kelly Hill; and tenor Joshua Kohl, who lend their voices to the story. Scenes in which Elijah raises the dead at Zarephath, defends his God and boldly challenges King Ahab, Jezebel and the Canaanite god Baal are all a part of the symphonic performance.
Elijah’s dramatic confrontation on Mount Carmel, his culminating fiery whirlwind chariot ride to heaven and other scenes are intensified by the Bushnell’s rarely used symphonic organ.
“This is a large organ,” said Mr. Coffey. “And the moments that the organ is heard are extraordinarily thrilling. We were able to use the organ and hire the organist thanks to a grant from the Greater Hartford Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.”
The production requires an enormous amount of preparation. Members of the Hartford Chorale, a volunteer organization with a professional staff, will have practiced 10 full weeks before the performance.
“Most of us spend one to two hours per day to really be ready for this,” said Richard Tecca, who sings bass and is a member of the Hartford Chorale Board of Directors. “When we walk into a rehearsal, we are expected to be ready to go.”
Initially, chorale members practiced in smaller groups, led by section leaders. The section leaders are semi-professionals who are tasked with assisting singers in learning the music and answering questions, said Mr. Tecca.
“In the week of the performance, we rehearse three times, twice with the Primi Voci Choir,” he said. “There are two full dress rehearsals with the symphony before the performance.”
While members of the Hartford Chorale prepare themselves for the performance, they are also providing opportunities for the public to learn more about Mendelssohn and about the prophet Elijah.
“Events, called conversations, are being offered to engage people in this great oratorio,” said Mr. Tecca. “It’s our best attempt at both publicizing it and having people, including our singers, enjoy it as much as possible.”
One such conversation was held in March; two will be held during early April, in the Wilde Auditorium at the University of Hartford in West Hartford. Mr. Coffey will discuss “Mendelssohn, the Composer” and focus on the historical context of his oratorio and explore the musical content of this work, from 2-3:30 p.m. April 7.
From 2-3:30 p.m. April 8, Hartford area scholars will discuss the role of the prophet Elijah in three Abrahamic faiths. The discussion titled “Meeting Elijah in Judaism, Christianity and Islam” will examine the history and unifying themes of the prophet Elijah’s life and legacy. The fee to attend both seminars is $65; those who attend both seminars will receive one complimentary ticket to the April 14 performance at the Bushnell.
“The opportunity for the Greater Hartford community to be present and to hear this magnificent oratorio will be a rare treat for all and will not come again soon,” said Mr. Coffey, who also expressed appreciation for support shown by the head of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“I am very pleased at the support for and appreciation for the work of the Hartford Chorale expressed by the Most Reverend Leonard Blair, who has blessed some of our performances with his presence, his encouragement and his prayers,” said Mr. Coffey. “He was at the prior ‘Messiah’ production and came backstage to the dressing room beforehand and offered a blessing upon our work. And it was just a lovely, lovely thing.”
The Hartford Chorale is a volunteer not-for-profit organization that presents on a symphonic scale masterpieces of great choral art to listeners throughout Southern New England. It is the largest choral group between Boston and New York City and the primary symphonic chorus in the region.
For tickets, visit hartfordsymphony.org or call 860-987-5900. For additional information or to register for the seminars, visit: library.hartford.edu/presidentscollege.