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MUSIC REVIEW : Spirited Concert From Gay Men's Chorus

March 15, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

IRVINE — Operatic concerts can be stodgy, stand-and-sing affairs, numerous excerpts parading by, with long stage waits and endless entrances and exits.

*

Not so the "Opera Our Way!" event performed Sunday afternoon by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles at its return to the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Not all the singing and playing was polished--some of it was actually clunky and amateurish--but pacing, visuals and continuity displayed a high standard of careful and astute planning.

How does one program a series of excerpts from the lyric theater (as we used to call the genre)? In 1994, very carefully, for what is, and what is not, operatic can be the subject of much controversy. Fearlessly, Jon Bailey, director of GMCLA, arranged an agenda of familiar and lesser-known pieces, all arguably operatic, performed as a vaudeville, with few stage waits and an engaging sense of fun.

It included, of course, big choruses by Wagner and Verdi, appearances by a guest soprano and tenor, a couple of amusing operatic spoofs, a Gilbert & Sullivan sampler and, for a climactic closer, the Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov."

Throughout, the 170-member vocal ensemble sang handsomely and with spirit, with strong enunciation and presentable German and French. The singers did not always perform with restraint, and inconsistently differentiated between styles. The big, hearty, open sound one associates with male glee clubs is only one option in a possible palette of choral expressions.

Visually, all colors emerged well defined and tastefully coordinated: The stage was dressed in strong reds and blacks; a different lighting scheme had been devised for each piece; only some tentativeness in the use of spotlights marred the smoothness otherwise achieved. And the chorus members clearly knew what they were about--their moves and gestures reflected an almost military precision.

Soprano Carmen Tejada sang arias from "Forza del Destino," "Fledermaus" and "Carmen" (Habanera) with inconsistent results. Daniel Ebbers, the guest tenor soloist, offered excerpts from "Sweeney Todd" and "Mikado."

The programmed encore was a choralized "Nessun dorma," from "Turandot," sung in a lowered transposition.

* "Divas! Opera Our Way!" will be performed twice, Saturday, at 4 and 8 p.m., at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets: $18-$25. Information: (213) 650-9756.

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