‘Creation’ comes to life at Balboa Theatre

By James Chute, San Diego Union-Tribune
April 05, 2014

Something wonderful happened at Friday's La Jolla Music Society concert at the Balboa Theatre: an opera broke out.

In fact, it was an oratorio, Haydn's The Creation, stylishly performed by British conductor Jane Glover and the Chicago-based Music of the Baroque.

But The Creation, which may be the greatest story ever told, starting with 'In the beginning'? and wrapping up two-and-a-half hours later with Adam and Eve in a state of bliss, out operas many operas.

Of course we know the ending (the fall is only briefly hinted at, as Haydn keeps everything consistently upbeat), but especially with the stellar solo trio of soprano Elizabeth Futral, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass-baritone Christòpheren Nomura, there was plenty of subtle drama as all three singers were unusually attentive to the nuances of the text.

With his bright yet unforced and unaffected tenor, Phan was commanding as the archangel Uriel. When he sings, 'Now vanish, before the holy beams, the gloomy shades of ancient night,' just after the chorus declares, 'God said, let there be light,' you could swear the room (and your heart) gets a little brighter.

Futral, as Gabriel, and later, Eve, was equally convincing. She found the joy in the music, the twinkle in Haydn's eye. And when she sang in Part 2, 'From every bush and grove resound the nightingale's delightful notes,' she could have been singing about herself.

Both Phan and Futral sang with remarkable ease, an element that can be traced directly to Glover. Even in the big choruses, beautifully sung with focus and finesse by the Music of the Baroque Chorus (prepared by William Jon Gray), there wasn't a trace of force.

Under Glover's enlightened leadership, everything sounded effortless. It all flowed together, as befits a work completely absent of darkness or malice. Indeed, it's hard to think of a more optimistic, uplifting piece of music.

Of course, performing it is anything but effortless. This is a sprawling, technically demanding work that in a less enlightened reading can seem to go on for two-and-a-half days rather than hours.

Many of the work's delights are relatively subtle; particularly the obvious fun Haydn has in depicting the wonders of creation (the worm, for example). And the way the piece is structured, it requires a conductor with a sure sense of musical architecture to build each of its three sections to the concluding chorus, and then somehow aim the entire work at those great amens at the end.

Glover had the musical sensitivity to bring those nuances to light, and she paced the work in a way that one thing always led to another. The orchestra, which is primarily comprised of members of the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestras, was attentive to her every gesture.

The only puzzling moment was the opening, 'The Representation of Chaos,' which sounded a little more chaotic than Haydn intended. The very first sound, a unison C in the winds, was out of tune, and things sounded rhythmically unsettled until the voices entered. And as 'the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,' everything clicked into place and there was no looking back.

From that point on, to borrow a phrase from God, 'it was good.'?