The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of March 4, 2011.
by D.S. Crafts
Haydn's great oratorio The Creation is one of those monumental “summing-up” pieces in which a composer calls upon a lifetime of experience. More acclaimed for his instrumental writing, the “father of the symphony” also did write a great deal of vocal music, even opera, but none approaching the grandeur and majesty of this, his masterpiece inspired by the great oratorios of Handel.
Last weekend brought The Creation to the stage of Popejoy Hall with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra joined by its acclaimed chorus prepared by Roger Melone. The three vocal soloists—soprano Martha Guth, tenor Michael Colvin and bass Ricardo Lugo—sang the roles of the three angels, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael, with soprano and bass also doubling as Eve and Adam.
The libretto is based in sources from Genesis, Psalms and Milton's Paradise Lost. Originally an English poem written for Handel, it was translated into German for Haydn. However it has been translated back into English for performances in English-speaking countries. The NMSO used the Parker-Shaw translation.
The advantage of singing the work in English is that it is in English. The disadvantage is that the English words don't always fit the melody as well as the original German. There is always a trade-off with translation.
Maestro Guillermo Figueroa led Part I, the origination of the physical world, with careful attention to the chiaroscuro that Haydn delicately paints, frequently contrasting major and minor chords. The moment of first light was, as in the premiere performance (and if you'll excuse the anachronism), electric. In the hands of a master, a simple major chord can be of profound significance.
Tenor Michael Colvin sang with a clear resounding tone, most appropriate as the music first turns to the joyous sound we often associate with Haydn, in his opening aria “Now vanquished by the holy beams.”
The chorus was in splendid form throughout, especially in key moments such as “The heavens are telling” ending Part I and in “Fulfilled at last,” the repeated section that closes Part II. Bass Lugo brought drama and urgency to “Rolling in foaming billows,” as the seas are formed.
Part II I like to call the animal section, where the creatures of the Earth are lovingly described and often painted in orchestral colors and gentle humor. Guth's soaring rendition of “On mighty wings” began with the proud eagle only to end sweetly with the nightingale, which is said to have sung cheerfully originally.
Indeed, one can see influence of Mozart's Magic Flute in this section, even to the point of flutists Valerie Potter and Sara Tutland making frequent short solo appearances.