The Boston College University Chorale joined forces with professional vocalists Michael Calmes (Obadiah, Ahab) and Philip Lima (Elijah) on Friday night to perform a dramatic and rousing take of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Under University Chorale conductor John Finney, the fall concert was a complete success, as the performance drew an impressive crowd to Trinity Chapel on BC’s Newton Campus.
Lima did an extraordinary job as Elijah—his vocals were powerful and clear, and he sang with amazing intensity. He is well-known throughout the world of opera for being a vocal powerhouse, and is currently the artistic director of The Bostonians. Calmes, too, did an amazing job by portraying great emotion through his vocals. He has previously worked with the University Chorale’s conductor on a Christmas CD called Cantique de Noel, Beautiful Songs of Christmas with Pianist John Finney. He was also a member of The Bostonians.
The history of Elijah goes all the way back to 1846. Elijah is an oratorio, which is very similar to an opera, except it doesn’t incorporate theatre. It tells a story through a concert—in this case, the story of the prophet Elijah’s life. Mendelssohn wrote Elijah in the style of better-known Baroque composers Bach and Handel.
Part One of Elijah is a full story in itself. The basis of the oratorio revolves around God’s covenant with Israel. He would grant them protection as long as they followed the Ten Commandments. When the King of Israel married, he left the Jewish tradition. He broke the covenant when he began to idolize Baal, a Canaanite god who is often seen as Yahweh’s enemy.
The concert opened as Elijah cursed Israel for abandoning God. As a prophecy, he predicted a drought, and the overture illustrated Israel’s struggles during this dry period. It was intense and strong, which made it quite moving, especially in the context of the story. Tension built as the overture went on, and eventually hit the climax as it turned into a rousing performance of “Help, Lord!” by the chorale. The emotion and drama was vivid and real as the intense voices bounced off the walls of the chapel.
Obadiah, one of Elijah’s followers, did not sin. He tried to turn the people (the chorale) back into faithful Jews during “Ye people, rend your hearts.” In doing so, he was slow and touching. It was a break from the intensity of the previous songs, but there was a quick turnaround—the people responded with “Yet doth the Lord hear it not!” The intensity and loud abruptness in this song was startling.
Elijah proceeded to challenge Baal’s priests to a competition. The one who sent fire from heaven would then become the true God. Elijah won this competition, and did away with the prophets of Baal. He rejoiced by singing the powerful “Is not His word like a fire?”
At the end, he prayed that God would stop the drought because Israel had finally repented. This is when the youth, sung by the immensely talented Alison Cool, LSOE ’21, enters and is instructed by Elijah to see if it is raining (he cannot look because he is praying so intensely). Finally, it began to rain, and the people celebrated, singing “Thanks be to God!”
Elijah was unique because it mixed Old Testament stories with intense and beautiful vocal harmonies and song. The University Chorale provided an extraordinary performance. Its talent for harmony shone throughout the night.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff