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Out & About: Choral music, musical theater

Lifestyle

Out & About: Choral music, musical theater

Choral music and musical theater dominate this week’s picks of the tix.

On the musical side of the ledger, Canada’s top choral ensemble is visiting Portland on Sunday. The Vancouver Chamber Choir is about 40 years old and has won many awards and released about 40 records and CDs over that time. They’ll sing in Merrill Auditorium.

Also on Sunday, the choir of the First Parish Church of Brunswick will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation,” a massive oratorio that features three soloists plus a 39-piece orchestra. The concert takes place in Topsham.

Lyric Music Theater has started the second half of its 2011-2012 season with one of Broadway’s newer musicals. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a wonderfully funny musical comedy that revolves around a duo of swindlers who prey on wealthy victims on the French Riviera. It’s playing in South Portland through March 10.

Vancouver Chamber Choir

Last year the Vancouver Chamber Choir celebrated its 40th anniversary. This year, as in most, the celebrated ensemble is touring the globe. This Sunday the VCC’s 20 voices will fill Merrill Auditorium, part of Portland Ovations’ 2011-2012 subscription season.

The choir will be led by Jon Washburn, its founder and artistic director. Back in the formative years, Washburn wasted no time in establishing his ensemble in the eyes and ears of the world. In 1973 the VCC became the first Canadian ensemble to win a first-place award in Let the Peoples Sing, the international contest sponsored by the British Broadcasting Company and the European Broadcasting Union.

Since then it has continued to amass honors. VCC was named Ensemble of the Year by the Canadian Music Council in 1989, and in 1994 it was awarded the grand prize at the Takarazuka International Chamber Chorus Contest. Chorus America’s Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence followed in 1998. The depth and range of the VCC can be heard on the approximately 40 albums and CDs its has recorded and released during its 40-plus years.

Washburn has built his reputation as music director through technical and artistic excellence plus innovative programming. He specializes in the non-familiar, achieving this objective by two routes. First is by commissioning new works for his ensemble. Second is by discovering older pieces that have been unfortunately neglected over the decades and centuries.

The program for VCC’s Portland performance features works by Thomas Weelkes, Andrea Gabrieli, Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Ingari and Electo Silva.

Washburn characterizes his ensemble: “Certainly, all our singers and instrumentalists are professional musicians – highly trained and experienced in the musical arts – but the essential characteristic they share is love; love of music making, love of the glorious choral repertoire, love of the art itself and of the poetic messages it elevates.”

Catch the Vancouver Chamber Choir at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 3 p.m. March 4. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Creation’

Many music aficionados consider “The Creation,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s monumental oratorio, to be the composer’s finest work. Unfortunately it’s so large in scope that it’s seldom performed in full.

That’s why it’s worth the short trek to Topsham this Sunday to hear “The Creation” in its entirety, performed by a premier Maine choir, three distinguished soloists and a 39-piece orchestra.

Conductor and organizer is Ray Cornils, music director of the First Parish Church in Brunswick. The foundation for Sunday’s performance is Cornils’ own church choir. Three professional soloists have been hired: soprano Jayne West, tenor Jason McStoots and bass Robert Honeysucker. Nearly 40 professional instrumentalists have been engaged, largely through Cornils vast network of musical connections.

Haydn wrote the work in the late 1700s on a visit to England, where he was impressed by the artistic achievements and commercial success of George Frideric Handel’s oratorios. Taking a text mostly compiled from the Bible’s Book of Genesis and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Haydn crafted music that has resounded through the centuries.

Haydn’s masterpiece follows the story of the creation of the world in three sections. The first unit explores the creation of heaven and earth. Part two revels in the creation of animals and man, while part three provides a glimpse into the Garden of Eden and the first experiences of Adam and Eve.

Hear “The Creation” resound through the Orion Center for the Arts at Topsham Middle School, 50 Republic Ave., at 3 p.m. March 4. Call 729-7331.

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’

The make-believe world of theater is a magical place where the normal rules of behavior and laws can be set aside for a few hours of innocent entertainment. Such is the case with Lyric Music Theater’s current show, which is built around con artists and swindlers.

Of course we detest these despicable characters when we see them in the newspapers and other media, but seven years ago a hit Broadway musical – with book by Jeffrey Land and score by David Yazbek – was constructed around a dynamic duo of entertaining and engaging swindlers who prey on wealthy visitors on the French Riviera. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” ran for more than a year and garnered 10 Tony Award nominations.

Lyric has mounted an excellent community production that ought to draw big audiences. And theater-goers won’t be swindled out of their ticket money; “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” offers a wonderful evening of laughter and fun.

Tops among the cast is Sean St. Louis-Farrelly, who’s convincing in his role of a smooth-talking phony European prince, a pretender to a fictitious throne who preys on gullible American women who want to get close to royalty – both financially and romantically. He’s paired with a small-time crook from America, who studies thievery in hopes of making the big time in Europe. David Surkin is delicious in this fine role.

Among the women, my favorites are Alison Bogannan, whose comic portrayal of a filthy-rich Oklahoma oil heiress who’s seeking her umpteenth husband provides some very funny moments, and Amy Torrey, who plays a very accomplished con-woman who turns the tables on the men.

The intricate and interesting choreography, by Celeste Green, is one of Lyric’s high points. The co-directors Vincent and Denise Knue, pull every laugh possible from Land’s fine script. I also liked the work of Leslie Chadbourne as music director and conductor of the small on-stage orchestra. Yazbek’s score lacks any really tuneful songs, but Chadbourne copes well with what she’s been given.

Lyric Music Theater, 76 Sawyer Rd. in South Portland, presents “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” through March 10 with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances and 2:30 p.m. matinees. Call 799-1421.