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Masterful 'Creation' Closes Season : Ventura County Master Chorale turns in an inspiring finale with Haydn's oratorio at Libbey Bowl in Ojai.


Last weekend, a shining model of site-specific programming unfolded in Ojai's Libbey Bowl. The glorious, quietly passionate spread of Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation," filled the natural concert environment, where the fruits of miraculous Creation were apparent to the naked eye.

The naked ear was equally refreshed.

Burns Taft led his full-bodied Ventura County Master Chorale with orchestra, making Haydn's grand ode a sweeping, inspiring finale to the Master Chorale's somewhat thin season.

Ironically, the Master Chorale began its season last fall with the fluffier stuff of the "California Garden Party." Subsequent performances were a Christmas program and one other spiritually loaded event in March--including a performance at the Mission--that led up to last weekend's more sublime sort of garden party.

Hadyn created this monumental work toward the end of his life, finishing it in 1798. It is said that he was inspired by Handel's music and spent two years completing the English-language oratorio. Authorship of the text is unclear, but the sources included the Bible and Milton's "Paradise Lost."

Haydn's maturity at the time of its composition--and his ability to draw on a life of experience in orchestral, choral and other modes of writing--no doubt has a lot to do with its variety of strengths.

At the time, Princess Eleonore von Leichtenstein revered the oratorio, effusing: "One is bound to shed tender tears at the greatness, the majesty, the goodness of God. The soul is uplifted. One can only love and wonder."

Her sentiment may seem a little hyperbolic to modern sensibilities, but the spirit is still valid when the musical challenge is met.

The oratorio is broken into three sections, organized in a large arc from the orchestral introduction of "Representation of Chaos" to the climactic "Sing the Lord, ye voices all . . ." with the full regalia of choral and orchestral forces.

Joining the already plentiful ranks of the Master Chorale were guest singers from three area high schools: Hueneme High, Ventura High and Ojai's own Nordhoff High. Before the second half, Taft commended the devoted fledgling guests: "These youngsters, and their teachers, are the shining light of this music, our future."

Originally scheduled to sing but unable to do so because of illness, soprano Virenia Lind was replaced with Gloria Grace Prosper. Prosper, along with tenor Grey Brothers, bass-baritone James Drollinger and mezzo-soprano Karen Medrano, attended to soloist duties with focused, impassioned power.

There were the beautiful sonorous interactions of Adam and Eve's duet, intoning the love song "By Thee with bliss. . . ." A majestic moment came before the intermission, as a trio and chorus gave profound resonance to "The Lord is great. . . ."

Haydn's story culminates in a triumphant finale. It is garden music of the most mythical and affirmative kind.

The Next Round

The Master Chorale has announced next season's four-concert program, alternating between venerable classical repertoire and lighter fare.

On Nov. 6 and 7, they'll start off gently by doing Kurt Weill's "Down in the Valley," a folk song opera, along with Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury."

The Dec. 11 and 19 program, "A Holiday With Italian Masters," features music by Pergolesi, Vivaldi and Respighi. On March 19 and 20, the music will waver between Brahms, Randall Thompson, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

The season finale, May 21 and 22, will be an operatic smorgasbord, with the Master Chorale and Metropolitan Opera regional finalists singing arias, ensembles and choruses from Verdi, Bizet, Strauss and Saint-Saens.

If short on artistic challenge or that old hobgoblin--contemporary music--the schedule promises to contain other rewards.

We are speaking, of course, of the joy of hearing a polished ensemble in action.

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