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Haydn Takes on Genesis and Milton For His Creation

March 03, 2009

Haydn’s bicentennial celebrated by RPO with its first complete performance, in English, of masterpiece; concert tickets are $15

Rochester, NY – One of the greatest vocal and orchestral collaborations, Joseph Haydn’s The Creation, will be performed in English by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Eastman-Rochester Chorus with guests soprano Barbara Shirvis, tenor Michael Colvin, and baritone Stephen Powell on Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, March 21 at 8:00 pm at Eastman Theatre. This is the first time the Orchestra has performed this work in its entirety.  Under the baton of Music Director Christopher Seaman, this pair of performances celebrates the bicentennial of Haydn’s death.  Renowned Haydn scholar and Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Dr. Michael Ruhling hosts the pre-concert chat at 7:00 pm.  Dr. Ruhling is president of the Haydn Society of North America, and served as secretary-treasurer of the Society for Eighteenth Century Music.

By 1795, after composing more than 100 symphonies, Haydn began searching for another means of musical expression.  “I want to write a work that will give permanent fame to my name in the world,” he declared.  The oratorio (a choral work with orchestra) was a popular musical form in the late 18th century.  Haydn was encouraged by a major player in Vienna’s musical circle to pursue the use of an English-language libretto, compiled from the Biblical book of Genesis and John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost for his own oratorio.  Two years of work resulted in the completion of The Creation, which premiered in 1798 to overwhelming success, with Haydn himself conducting. 

The score is divided into thee parts, each of which ends with a triumphant chorus.  Part One – “Representation of Chaos” – begins with a strikingly advanced depiction of the chaos that preceded the existence of the universe.  The first four days of Creation are narrated musically by the three Archangels – Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor), and Raphael (baritone).  Imaginative passages depict the appearances of heaven, earth, land, sea, plant life, and the celestial bodies – including, according to Christopher Seaman “a lovely moment introducing the Worm!”  Part Two includes the appearance of human beings, and Part Three – with the text shifting from the Bible to Milton – describes Adam and Eve’s blissful life in the Garden of Eden, as they sing together celebrating the beauty of Creation and their love for one another.

Soprano Barbara Shirvis began her career at New York City Opera where she sang for a decade in such roles as Micaëla in Carmen, Pamina in Magic Flute, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, and Yum-Yum in Mikado. This season, she performs with Utah Opera, Opera Roanoke, and in Turandot in a fully-staged production with the Jacksonville Symphony.  Ms. Shirvis sang Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass at Carnegie Hall and Schubert’s Mass at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.  She and her husband, Stephen Powell regularly appear together in “An American Celebration” duo recital.  She last appeared with the RPO in 2008, performing in Carmina Burana.

Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin has appeared to critical acclaim in concert and on the opera stage throughout North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe.  He has sung an array of sacred and secular music by such composers as Mozart, Dvořák, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Britten, with conductors Helmut Rilling, Jane Glover, Nicholas McGegan, and Trevor Pinnock.  Recent operatic appearances have included lead roles in Così fan tutte with the Canadian Opera Company, Don Giovanni with Chicago Opera Theater, and Rossini’s La Cerentola with Portland Opera.  Mr. Colvin recently debuted with the Minnesota Opera and returns this season to the English National Opera.

Dynamic American baritone Stephen Powell performs a wide range of music with leading American orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston, and Nashville symphonies, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and at the Kennedy Center under Leonard Slatkin.  He has performed numerous times with the New York City Opera and with the Metropolitan Opera, and this season, performs with the operas of San Francisco, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

Now in its twenty-fifth anniversary season, the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, directed by William Weinert, is a select symphonic chorus consisting of singers from the greater Rochester community and students from the Eastman School of Music. The chorus presents works for chorus and orchestra in collaboration with the orchestras of the Eastman School of Music as well as the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and has performed world premieres of such pieces as Dominick Argento’s Four Seascapes, the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, and Handel’s Solomon, among others. 

Since 1994, William Weinert has served as Director of Choral Activities at the Eastman School of Music, where he conducts the Eastman-Rochester Chorus as well as the Eastman Chorale, and supervises students in the graduate programs in choral conducting.  He has conducted throughout the United States, Europe, and Hong Kong, as well as various chorale conventions across the country, including The American Choral Directors Association and the National Collegiate Choral Organization.

All tickets for these performances are discounted to $15, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office (108 East Avenue), 10:00 am-5:00 pm Monday-Saturday (10:00 am-3:00 pm non-concert Saturdays), and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.  The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted $9 Philharmonics Series tickets to local students. 

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