A rollicking tone made this choral salute to opera's greatest hits an entertaining evening
Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Aug. 24, 2012
Viva L'Opera!Northwest Hills United Methodist Church
There she loomed, in all her Wagnerian epicness: Brünnhilde, that horn-clad, spear-wielding icon of operatic foreboding, beckoning audiences to the oft-concertized Northwest Hills United Methodist Church sanctuary. A tough act to follow if ever there was one, her photographed preshow presence was nevertheless swapped out to open the concert with another Walkürean homage: a showing of Merrie Melodies' What's Opera, Doc?, starring the fiery Elmer Fudd and indefatigable Bugs Bunny.
The frequently rollicking tone for the evening had been set. Those in attendance at Texas Choral Consort's concert of operatic standards knew that they could sit back and relax – this wasn't going to be the highbrow, stuffy event that the non-inducted occasionally risk at l'opera. The program read like the track list of one of those 50 Greatest Hits of Opera CDs sold on 3am infomercials – except that the hits numbered just 16 and consisted mostly of famous opera choruses and arias. St. Edward's University theatre professor and Austin actor Ev Lunning Jr. served as master of ceremonies, waltzing the audience through the context of each excerpt with humor alternating between deadpan and jovial. (The script was written with tongue in cheek by Lissa Anderson.) Add to this the costume pieces donned by Lunning and members of the ensemble, and you get a pretty good picture of the literal play at hand.
And that smartly-wrought play added an especially fun element to frame the consort's performance, which admittedly wasn't the most musically solid. But if you consider that a major point of pride for the choir is "[providing] singers from Central Texas and beyond with quality non-auditioned choral opportunities," you can see how rewarding it would be to participate in such a communal musical experience. The majority of what was heard on Saturday night was not from professional singers (though in addition to the always remarkable Austin Haller at the piano, four impressively credentialed guest vocalists made several appearances each), and yet the concert's blatantly fun atmosphere made for an entertaining evening despite some issues of intonation, blend, and precision that can plague even the most seasoned of vocal ensembles. For me, a first-time attendee of a TCC performance, it was a welcome introduction to the clearly fulfilling opportunities the organization provide its members as well as the accessible experience it provides its audiences. Brünnhilde ist glücklich.