by Mary W Maxwell
It was the height of the Terror. Eight nuns in one convent refused to obey the government’s directives. They opted for martyrdom. Except Sister Blanche who ran away, frightened of the guillotine. The seven remaining Sisters began to intone the Salve Regina.
Shockingly, the first nun was beheaded (to the sound of a snare drum), the other six continuing their hymn of praise. Then another sister was beheaded, and only five stood singing. Then four … and finally there was only one left. Mid-hymn her voice was silenced. It was devastating to behold.
At that point, however, Sister Blanche came back – now determined to not render to Caesar that which is God’s. We hear her sing the hymn that had been sung when she made her vows: Veni Creator. But soon enough, even her voice is replaced by the screech of the guillotine.
That was the horrific performance last night at St James Church, Sydney, where the Australian Opera chorus re-enacted a scene from “The Dialogue of the Carmelites,” by Poulenc (1956).
The program was an ingenious collection of choruses that have something to do with religion. The opening number was “Patria Oppressa” – what a title – from Verdi’s “Macbeth.” As the conductor said, Verdi used a minimum of musical resources in Macbeth. (In my opinion an insufficiency, but I tend toward the emotional stuff).
The conductor and the accompanist are both young, and last night both had their timing down to a science. In the case of the pianist, maybe down to a nanoscience.
The gals wore “their Sunday best” – no choir robes, just lovely gowns, there was even a floral gown, and some sparkling tops. There was plenty of young skin showing — but not too much. After all, a church is a church.
Yours truly attended mainly to get high on Brahms’ German Requiem but that proved disappointing. As did Parry’s Coronation Anthem (used by Kate Middleton to guide her up the aisle, those two babies ago). The sopranos were shrill. I thought it was the acoustics, but no, in the Rossini “Little Solemn Mass” all went nicely.
It was testosterone city when the male members burst out with a perfect rendition of the Soldiers Chorus from Gounod’s “Faust.” (1859) (Hmm. Same year as Darwin’s Origin of Species. Could be relevant). There were nineteen men last night. The full chorus has a hundred permanent members, split between Sydney and Melbourne. They perform 270 times per year!
Probably the musical high point of the evening was the Easter Hymn from “Cavaleira Rusticana” –Mascagni (1889). As the Easter Hymn was the school song of my alma mater, Emanuel Collegium, I was a bit teary.
Really with that sort of sublime singing going on, you could almost forget that there’s such Gumshoean problems as 9-11, the TPP, MH17, and vaccination.
Speaking of the big vax now underway, rendering to Ceasar that which is God’s, I venture to guess that some day, when the vax “omnicide” is complete, and only a few humans live to replenish the species, they will come up with another “Cavalleria rusticana.” Like monkeys randomly typing the complete works of Shakespeare.
But I could be wrong: the backpackers who shared my room last night assured me that techno-music is the future.
You will want to know that the program ended with Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s “Nabucco” (1842). Well not quite the end. When I arrived at the venue, I found a gaggle of opera regulars arguing as to what they would demand for an encore. Their choice did not win. We got a beautiful Negro spiritual. I won’t say which one as I want you to attend and be surprised.
If you are within cooee and can slap down the $70 for a ticket, you should go to St James Church, which is on King Street at corner of Elizabeth today October 23, 2015 at 7pm.
Of course there will be eight more beheadings this evening.
And not an Islamic terrorist in sight.
- Mary W Maxwell did time as a choral conductor. Give her a chance, she can make you sing.