Christmas is mere weeks away, and that can mean only one thing: the members of the 100-voice Peterborough Singers are taking their tattered scores of Handel’s Messiah down off the shelves, where they’ve rested since the final ringing notes of the sing-a-long encore of the “Hallelujah” chorus faded last December, and cracking them open to brush up those intricate numbers that can trip up even the most experienced choristers.
The Singers’ performance of Messiah has been an annual Peterborough tradition for over 20 years now, but, as any of the veterans who have been there from the beginning will tell you, it takes intense practice every single year to get it right. They’ll also tell you that the work is always worth it, since Messiah is the Christmas ornament that never loses any of its glitter, the gift that never stops giving.
“Singing Handel’s Messiah each Christmas is the heart of our experience as a choir,” says Syd Birrell, artistic director for the Singers. “It is a gift to us and to our audience. We never tire of putting our all into this life-enhancing work.”
While the score for the Messiah never changes, the roster of soloists does, and many of Canada’s leading soloists have shared the stage with the Singers over the years. This year the Singers have targeted “emerging artists,” including two up-and-coming vocalists who got their start in the ranks of the Singers.
“We are giving three of our guest artists an opportunity to sing Messiah for the very first time,” Birrell explains. “This is a milestone in any singer’s career, and what a thrill that Melody, Emma, and Tyler sing it first with us.”
Soprano Melody Thomas, a Peterborough native, received her honours bachelor of music from the University of Toronto under the tutelage of mezzo-soprano Jo-Anne Bentley. She recently completed her opera diploma at Wilfrid Laurier University with tenor Brandon Leis. In addition to her first solo Messiah, Thomas will be featured in A Night at the Opera with the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra in February 2014.
Lakefield native Emma Mansell is a 22-year-old mezzo-soprano who is in her final year at Laurier, majoring in voice performance. Most recently, Emma had her debut performance as the loveable character Cherubino in Opera Laurier’s spring production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
Originally from Nanaimo, British Columbia, bass-baritone Tyler Fitzgerald is currently in his second year of Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Program. He completed a bachelor’s degree in music at Laurier under mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber in 2011.
And finally, praised in Opera Canada magazine for his wholesome tenor voice, Christopher Mayell is quickly making his mark as a rising star in Canada’s opera houses and concerts halls. Among his recent engagements are Carmina Burana with the Mendelssohn Choir, Bach’s Magnificat with the Kingston Chamber Choir, and Dr. Caius in Falstaff for Calgary Opera.
As always, the Singers will be anchored by Juno-winning organist Ian Sadler. Ian’s recording discography is extensive with eight solo organ CDs and over 35 choral CD recordings on current release. For his dedication to promoting the organ and Canadian music, both at home and abroad, The Royal Canadian College of Organists honoured Ian in 2007 with their highest award, “Fellow of The Royal Canadian College of Organists.”
Other supporting artists for this year’s Messiah include Paul Otway on the trumpet and Stan Ewing on the timpani.