By Truman C. Wang
This multimedia presentation of Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” had many things to recommend it – a superb ensemble of chorus and soloists, fanciful video projections and lighting to match Haydn’s equally fanciful music, and even a stirring “Hallelujah” chorus to ring in the holiday spirit. Tying up all these together was conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who never let up the excitement after the initial ‘Big Bang’ of Creation (“Let there be light!”) and made this two-hour religious oratorio almost as enjoyable as a Mozart comic opera.
The Bible’s “Genesis” story is a wildly busy one. God creates light, water, plants, birds, whales, lions, horses, worms and Adam & Eve in a span of seven days. All these, and more, are depicted dramatically and humorously in Haydn’s music through the sound mimicking of animals and nature. The chirping and tweeting of birds by the soprano, the lumbering giant whales in the basses, the cattle and sheep in lush pastoral music for the strings – when was the last time you had this much fun in a church?
The inside of the Disney Hall has been likened to a giant ship – in this particular case a Noah’s Ark (I know what you were going to say, but it’s not the Disney Cruise) – with the pipe organs at its bow. Through the magic of Alberto Arvelo’s video installation and James Ingalls’ lighting effects, it gave the illusion of the ‘ship’ sailing through space or storms. In one memorable episode, a rainstorm splashed onto the rows behind the stage and cascaded down like a waterfall, capturing perfectly the tone painting and humor in Haydn’s music.
The three soloists singing the three archangels were clad in white (of course), while the chorus and orchestra were in black. Vocally, they also stood out with their superb singing. Soprano Rachele Gilmore’s silvery yet potent voice recalled that of the great American soprano Barbara Bonney; Johua Guerrero’s sweet, clear-voiced tenor would be right at home as Don Ottavio or Tamino in Mozart’s operas; baritone Johannes Kammler was given the most challenging musical numbers (storms, whale, worm) and executed them well.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale was stellar in their contributions, singing with the religious fervor of a church choir and the drama of an opera chorus. As clichéd as it might seem, the choral highlight was the brilliant “Hallelujah” chorus that ends Part II of the oratorio (same as in Part II of “Messiah”) and it compared favorably to anything the great Handel ever wrote.
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.