Chorus closes season in grand, albeit scaled-down, style

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2009
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Chorus pro Musica's former director Jeffrey Rink returned to conduct the group on Sunday; its 60th-anniversary season closed with concert opera, an annual tradition Rink started in the 1990s. Putting the grandeur of "Turandot" into Jordan Hall is somewhat like putting a rock band into a phone booth, but Puccini's swan song is an opera to be happily overwhelmed by, and the group delivered in formidable fashion.

"Turandot" also ranks as a choral showpiece; especially in its first act, with the titular princess at a distance but her murderous regard for unworthy suitors front-and-center, the crowd carries huge stretches of the drama. The chorus (prepared for this concert by Steven Gearhart) dove in with brio, rhythmically grounded, textually clear, ranging in color from spectral hush to quintessential grand-opera peroration. (A contingent of children from the Boston City Singers lent tonal innocence from the balcony.)

Puccini's protagonists verge on forces of nature; both respective soloists embraced that larger-than-life aspect. Kip Wilborn, making his Boston debut, sang Calaf with unremitting bravado, braving Turandot's riddles as much for competitive thrill as amorous reward. His full-bore attack left the edges of his voice slightly frayed by the time Act III's "Nessun dorma" came around, but Calaf's steamroller confidence was entertainingly palpable.

Turandot has a notoriously tough entrance, launching into the aria "In questa reggia," and Othalie Graham's immense voice took time to warm up. But the Canadian soprano's timbre and power were thrilling - steely ring from top to bottom - and her path from imperiousness to passion was convincing.

Todd Robinson's generously tolling bass gave Timur a stoic gravity. As Liu, Eleni Calanos, a recent graduate of Boston University's Opera Institute, sang with an arresting, dark warmth, though with a tendency to hurtle through phrases. Benjamin Werth, another BU student, brought impressive presence to the Mandarin's brief, expository role.

Ping, Pang, and Pong, the princess's put-upon bureaucrats, found ideal realization in local stalwarts David Kravitz, Frank Kelley, and Charles Blandy. The trio's comic precision and matched musical flair made one wish they had the playground of a full staging. And Boston institution Richard Conrad sang the role of the old Emperor, often a sinecure for aged legends; Conrad belied that pattern with elegant lyricism and a flawless legato, a connoisseur's delight.

Rink is an unobtrusive conductor, but superbly attuned to singers' breathing and phrasing, and the polish and vividness of the pick-up orchestra was witness to his effective artistry. With noble pace, the prodigious sonic bloom engulfed the room. As it should: No matter the vessel, "Turandot" overflows.

CHORUS PRO MUSICA Jeffrey Rink, conductor

Puccini: "Turandot"

At: Jordan Hall, Sunday

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