Review: Christmas with the MSO

Review: Christmas with the MSO

I have to admit that I was hardly in the Christmas spirit when I attended the first weekend performance of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual Christmas concert.

My wife and I had just returned from two weeks in the Seattle area and our train was 13 hours late. I was about to start a new job in the Sheboygan area. I didn’t have time for a pops concert.

And it took about 30 seconds into the opening hymn, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” as the MSO as the Madison Symphony Chorus sang and members of the Madison Youth Choirs walked down the Overture Hall aisles carrying battery-powered candles before I was immersed in the ambiance of the whole thing.

You don’t care about me, of course. But I cite my own experience to suggest just what a powerful event this Christmas concert is.

Melody Moore, the soprano who sang the title role of Tosca in this fall’s Madison Opera production returned to the city to sing Christmas songs. Bass singer Nathan Stark, who will sing in the opera’s spring production of “Daughter of the Regiment” was her male counterpart.

They are each powerful singers. I have to say, though, that I am continually impressed with Moore’s range, not only her vocal range, but her range of stage presence.

She joined the choirs to sing the familiar “All is Well,” singing in the midst of the local vocalists and blended in so easily that, at first, it was hard to spot her, and, then, left the stage without taking a bow. She was part of the choir.

But, at the concert’s end, when she joined 2,500 audience members in singing Christmas carols, it wasn’t at all hard to hear her voice reaching over the masses. She did the same thing in “Tosca.” She clearly had the dominant voice – but the impression I took from the opera is that all three principals were evenly matched. It’s a remarkable talent she has.

Leotha Stanley and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir are familiar participants in the Christmas concert and they, too, seemed to blend into the overall program more smoothly this year than in previous appearances.

The Christmas concert tends to draw a different, younger, audience than do the classical symphony offerings and that’s partially because many classical music devotees don’t purchase tickets for the pops-oriented holiday performance. That’s probably a good thing because it gives younger people an opportunity to experience a great orchestra and choruses.

But I can’t help feeling that those who stay away are missing something special. Given the talent that conductor John DeMain has developed and recruited over the years, the pops concert doesn’t detract from quality experience we expect in symphony music; it elevates the popular music it offers to the level of classical performance.