Bach Choir of Bethlehem to perform Mendelssohn choral masterpiece

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

What Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments" was on the big screen, Felix Mendelssohn's fiery oratorio "Elijah" is in the concert hall. Both boast large casts, an epic biblical saga, and all the drama of Old Testament fire and brimstone.

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and the Bach Festival Orchestra, along with soloists and the Millersville University Keystone Singers present this over-the-top masterpiece of choral art Wednesday evening at Strathmore.

"Elijah," often referred to as one of the most sublime choral works ever written, features Greg Funfgeld, artistic director and conductor, leading the all-volunteer choir of 90 voices. Professional vocalists take on the roles of the story's main characters and include Dashon Burton singing the title role, backed by mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, tenor Mark Boyle and soprano Rosa Lamoreaux performing a variety of characters that advance the story of the prophet Elijah in all its dramatic intensity.

" 'Elijah' is a magnificent piece," noted Lamoreaux, who has spent the bulk of her professional career singing oratorio, much of it with the Bach Choir. "A lot of the 19th-century repertoire was so heavy-handed and overblown, it became out of fashion later in the 20th century. It used to be the most popular piece to perform -- it would sell out every night, sort of like 'Messiah' does now."

Onstage
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem & Bach Festival Orchestra
» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $35 to $65, $20 students; 301-581-5200; strathmore.org

Today, with concert halls much larger than they used to be, Mendelssohn's sacred opera "Elijah" has room to spread out -- to utilize all the vocal and instrumental forces available to dramatize and do justice to the Old Testament story, much as the movie screen was able to accomplish with the advent of CinemaScope.

Founded in 1898, Pennsylvania's Bach Choir of Bethlehem is the oldest Bach Choir in America, with 100 dedicated singers and Greg Funfgeld at the helm. While the bulk of its performance repertoire consists of the sacred music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the group will, at times, perform the oratorios of other composers. Since its founding, the now-famous choir has been attracting thousands of national and international visitors every May to its annual Bethlehem Bach Festival.

Wednesday's performance is set to be a rare and wonderful opportunity to enjoy what the Wall Street Journal calls "an American musical treasure," as the choir performs this Mendelssohn masterpiece.

" 'Elijah' is a very powerful, miracle-filled Old Testament story, and to bring that across is a great thrill for any of us performing," said Lamoreaux.

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