The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of October 12, 2008.
When Mendelssohn composed his oratorio Elijah, he did so to a German text. But when commissioned to write a work for performance in Birmingham England, he had it translated into English. A rendition in either language is considered legitimate.
This weekend the New Mexico Symphony and Chorus mounts its production of Elijah, in English of course. Yes, this is the same Elijah of chariot and horses of fire fame, who it is said “went up in a whirlwind into heaven,” one of the more bizarre and still unsatisfactorily explained Biblical passages. Once the rage of Victorian society, the work still remains one of the most often-performed oratorios.
Roger Melone, whose outstanding NMSO Chorus has been earning accolades well beyond the bounds of New Mexico, conducts the entire ensemble. His effective tempos fulfill the drama of the music, still allowing for the elasticity of interpretation, and minimizing Mendelsohn's tendency to lapse into sentimentality.
The choir demonstrates throughout the reason for its recent acclaim. There is power when needed, and compassionate humanity in the warmer passages. These are people who truly mean what they sing. The section “Blessed are the men” treads effectively between solemn lyricism and the dark drama of “Through darkness riseth light.” If the first chorus to the deity Baal is impressive, the second is truly electric. One almost expects him to appear. Mendelssohn always knew how to write an exciting finale. Even with a mediocre ensemble this one is impressive. Here, the result is quite majestic.
The soloists too gave strong performances, especially the women. Soprano Kelly Nassief is a real find. With pin-point focus, her clear, bright intonation is radiant. Her aria “Hear ye, Israel” which begins the second half is one of the highlights of the evening.
New Mexico favorite Kathleen Clawson lends her sensuous, even sultry mezzo-soprano to the roles of Angel and the Queen Jezebel. The two female voices blend beautifully as well, as evidenced by the duet “Zion spreadeth her hands.”
Baritone David Grogan in the title role moves easily between stentorian declamation and lyrical aria. “For the mountains shall depart” is touchingly heartfelt.
The role of the tenor, sung here by Karl Dent, is rewarding but rather odd. Having two of the most beautiful arias of the work, one at the beginning and the other at the very end, there is next to nothing to sing in between.
And certainly mention must be made of boy soprano Jered Dominguez-Trujillo who appears briefly but admirably as the youth, Elisha.