The Asheville Lyric Opera-sponsored concert to kick off the Asheville holiday season was designed primarily as a community event to benefit Caring for Children, Inc. The Diana Wortham Theatre was filled with performers — two local choral groups (the Asheville Choral Society and Pastyme) alternated with ALO soloists Colette Boudreaux, Roberto Flores, Andrea Blough, and David Craig Starkey, the company’s Artistic Director. The WCU Dancers, a troupe of 12 Rockette-wannabes directed by Dance Program Director Karyn Tomczak, provided the spectacle, and a jazz quintet led by the evening’s accompanist, Brad Curtioff, backed up a few singers and played a few sets of its own. The resulting program was an idiosyncratic mix of holiday favorites performed by such varying musical abilities that the evening was as much an exposé of what not to do as what to do.
Several numbers were shockingly under-rehearsed. The quintet soloists (Russell Sena, trumpet; and Vincent Corda, sax and flute) played out of tune, had tentative entrances, or entirely flubbed the parts. Starkey’s beautiful singing in “What child is this?” was so marred by the trumpet solo I was asking myself “What Tune is This?” There wasn’t much going on in the chemistry department between Boudreaux and Flores, particularly on “Let it snow,” where Flores forgot some lyrics and the number foundered, never to recover.
There were notable exceptions, of course. The hands-down favorites were the two sets by Pastyme, an accomplished group of eight a cappella singers with high performance standards. Their first set opened with the jewel of the evening, J. Rathbone’s jazzy arrangement of “We Three Kings,” set for four men — three plus the comically “instrumental” bass of Ken Wilson. A second novelty number, “The Sleigh” (arr. Ken Malucelli), was tossed off in effortless good humor before a set of three sentimental favorites beautifully arranged by R. Trevarthen: “The Christmas song,” “I’ll be home/Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” and “White Christmas.” The group has perfected the art of not over-singing and makes a beautiful case for the appeal of music quietly and artfully rendered. The audience loved them.
Andrea Blough was another bright spot of the evening, singing in a clear and beautifully controlled voice the solo in “Panis angelicus/O holy night” (arr. Franck/Adam) with the Asheville Choral Society, and “Gesù bambino” with piano accompaniment. Her rendering of “Rejoice Greatly” from Messiah was that of Handel’s original version, a gigue in lieu of the revised Dublin version in duple meter heard more often. While the singing was lovely, the accompaniment was syrupy and utterly out of Baroque character.
The Asheville Choral Society, for a year now under the direction of Melodie Galloway, performed several works in addition to that previously mentioned. An a cappella “Gloria” by Cesar Carillo was followed by “A babe is born,” where problems of blend and tentative, “reactive” entrances were evident. “The Sleigh (à la Russe),” arranged by W. Riegger, was zesty and fun, and exhibited some of their best ensemble work, followed by “Blue Rondo à la Christmas,” a corny but cute production number.