The Hallelujah Chorus came early to Downey. We didn’t have to wait for Easter, when it is usually performed, but heard it as the rousing finale to the first-of-a-kind holiday concert at the Downey Theatre.
Performed by two choruses and a quartet of opera stars, Chad Berlingheri’s Cathedral Productions sparkled just like the blue December sky outside. From the snap of the whip in LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” to the soaring tenor of Anthony Ciaramitaro in “O Holy Night,” Downeyites were treated to a musical feast.
Every number sounded new, from the harmonies and descants of “O Come All ye Faithful” to the pizazz with which Cooper Phillip performed “Santa Baby.” When she came back, her version of “All I want for Christmas is You,” erased any vestigial memory of the song as performed in the classic film, “Love, Actually.”
Basso Christopher Job sang “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in an arrangement by Downey’s multi-talented Lars Clutterham, that is destined to be a perennial crowd pleaser. That is, if you have a basso like Christopher.
Spotted on the plaza in front of the Downey Theatre were red-jacketed Bill Kirkwood and Connie in red velvet paisley, chatting with Mary Golay; Jim and Judy Reynolds, his burgundy jacket brightening the scene.
Pat Gil with red roses on her fave color black was busy in the lobby handing out discount postcards for the oncoming Downey Symphony Concert on Jan. 19. Pat is president of the Downey Arts Coalition and a member of the Symphony board. Kiwanian Bob Belcher with steel gray baroque curls on his moustache came with Cheryl.
Santa Claus -- a truly unrecognizable Mark Keller under the make-up and beard -- stood by an immensely tall tree, a great photo op. Then coming into the auditorium one was struck by a golden harp placed downstage in front of the orchestra, and the waiting seated harpist, Amber Burdick, in her gold -spangled golden chiffon gown.
A large mixed chorus composed of the Southland Singers, and drawn from the Paul Delgado Singers and the Lyric Opera Orange County, stood arrayed on risers in back of an able fifty-two piece orchestra, conducted by Russian-born Valery Ryvkin.
I sat with Giggy Perez-Saab, newly minted school board member, and her mother, Alodia Perez-Lam, visiting from Miami. Alodia’s name signifies she is half Spanish, by way of Cuba, and half Chinese.
“I love Confucius,” Alodia said, “and I was brought up and I taught my daughters to live by the Confucian Golden Rule. Do unto other as you would be done to, and don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.”
Newly inaugurated mayor of Downey Rick Rodriguez welcomed the audience and then gave an invocation, asking for continued blessings to the City of Downey, “already so blessed.” Then at the baton of Maestro Valery, the concert began.
The busiest musician on the stage was percussionist Shota Hanai, first clapping two sticks of wood for the whip crack, then moving to the timpani to produced galloping hooves, then moving over to the hanging chime set to add festive bells.
Later, in the hauntingly harmonious “O Holy Night,” the harpist and the timpani enacted a contrasting duet, she gliding her fingers over the strings to produce a cascade of celestial glissandos, and then, seated directly behind her, he furiously raising a tempest of awesome fervor.
The red-jacketed All-American Boys choir performed “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and when the applause came, they bowed their heads in a rippling domino effect as they acknowledged the applause.
Just before the finale for the first half, artistic director and impresario Chad came on stage to thank everyone who had worked on the production and to acknowledge those who made it possible. Chad held up the program, singling out the coming January Downey Symphony Concert, and the support of the Rotary Club of Downey with a nod to the Kiwanis, the latter two bringing deep cheers from the audience. Downey Art Coalition took a full page, as did the Downey Foundation for Educational Opportunities; Angry Horse Brewing, a boutique micro-brewery in Montebello, and Barriles Restobar.
Chad thanked Lars Clutterham for that imaginative arrangement of Dr. Seuss’s Mr. Grinch: “Downey, you are blessed to have him. What a treasure!”
“A crackerjack staff here backstage, wonderful to work with,” said Chad.
Chad reminded us of his next production on the historic Queen Mary on Feb. 9, a Valentine’s Day cabaret featuring Soprano Anna Schubert, bass-baritone Christopher Job, “Mr. Grinch,” and red-clad Santa Baby Cooper Phillip and her band. Truly, one of the marks of a true professional is versatility.
In the year-round spirit of giving, Chad’s Cathedral Productions has given back to the communities where it performs, with instruments for children’s musical education, blankets for the homeless and financial support of retired religious.
During Intermission on the fairy-lighted patio, Amber Vogel, theatre manager for Venue Tech in a striking red and black print dress, was seen chatting with Frank Kearns, poet and publisher of the bijou Los Nietos Press.
Music lover Jorge Montero, whose career included working as an acoustical engineer for Capitol Records, said “It was a performance worthy of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.” Martha Medford Sodetani and son, Gordon, enjoyed the event, as did Shirley Johnson and fellow Rotarians Jim and Judy Reynolds and Ryan Keene. Dr. Ed Potter, beloved former assistant school superintendent, joined his fellow Rotarians in the bloc of seats they took in support of newest member of their club, Chad.
Steve Roberson and Darlene enjoyed the concert, even though Steve professionally writes and sings country-western songs to entertain his fellow Kiwanians. Glenn Stephens, who brings the indie film festival Glennfest to Downey, shared in praising the performances. Glenn wore a truly original red, white and blue printed Christmas tree jacket.
Also enjoying the mild Southern California winter air on the patio were Linda and Rick Haines, she an active Soroptimist and past district governor. Ellie Eck and Judy McDonald joined her. Soroptimist International looks after the welfare of women and children worldwide.
Then came the big piece, apparently the first time Handel’s Messiah has been performed in Downey, a weighty responsibility. But the string chamber ensemble augmented by that timpanist, was up to it. Soloists included Christopher Job, the bass-baritone. Gone was the buffo basso who had delighted us with Mr. Grinch. Here now was a soloist who let out all the stops in the aria, “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming.”
Christopher sang to out-tenor the tenor Anthony Ciaramitaro. But Anthony, returning from “O Holy Night” to perform In Every Valley, showed why tenors are considered the alpha males of Grand Opera, with his glorious tones and sustained resonance. Overwhelming.
One of the six necessary elements of drama, according to Aristotle, is spectacle, or “Ops,” and the costumes and colorful style of the female performers heightened to great effect their rich natural gifts.
Mezzo Claudia Chapa, splendid in a deep teal velvet top over a rich taffeta satin skirt of a lighter tone and a sparkling buckle accent, delivered a beautiful “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion.” The soprano, Anna Schubert, slim and brunette in an Art Deco beaded dress of silver on nude illusion chiffon, stood and walked with dignity to deliver Handel’s great aria “Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion.” One would like someday to hear a duet-duel between this singer’s full timbre and the tenor.
Everyone rose when Maestro Ryvkin turned and cued us in, to honor the custom of standing for the magnificence of the Hallelujah Chorus.
The quartet and strings and the timpanist took a long curtain call and Chad and Santa joined them from the wings. A worthy first-time production. Downey expects great things when they return.