COSTA MESA — Sunday was a big night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center--about 175 adult voices, 80 children's and 100 instrumentalists big. Conductor John Alexander had convened the Pacific Chorale with its Children's Chorus and the Pacific Symphony to present the weighty 19th-Century dramatics of Boito's Prologue to "Mefistofele" and Berlioz's "Te Deum."
As a program, the two works--one depicting a wager made by the devil over Faust's soul, the other a prayer for God's mercy, set by an agnostic with a flair for the theatrical--made captivating company. Both demand control over a large range of dynamics while offering plenty of opportunity to flex vocal muscles. Members of the chorale managed to be loud without screeching, to phrase with fluid legato and to communicate their messages as penitents, angels and supplicants well, though sopranos generally dominated at climaxes.
Trained by Lori Loftus, who also served as organist on this occasion, the children endeared themselves as cherubim in "Mefistofele," pure, clean and charming, but were completely subsumed in the "Te Deum." The orchestra, particularly the brass, partnered with a sure strength that was answered by obnoxious, jarring tones from the Johannus organ.
Soloist Michael Gallup created a very personable devil, acting out the role--without costume, except for the rakish red handkerchief tucked into his tuxedo-jacket pocket--and conveying all the irony of the part in a rich, focused bass.
As Berlioz's not-so-humble petitioner, tenor Jonathan Mack begged for aid and mercy in even, clarion tones, with convincing Romantic intensity. After an evening of choral and orchestral thunder, the calm a cappella section that complements the tenor's passages here affected greatly through the Pacific Chorale's hushed and balanced attention to nuance.