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A choral convergence

Two hundred vocalists bring Verdi to the island Sunday.

Choristers from Bainbridge Chorale and Choral Sounds Northwest have packed Bethany Lutheran Church as if the occasion were Easter Sunday.

Vocalists in the last few rows stand to catch a glimpse of director Mark Adrian’s raised baton. There is a riffle of air as nearly 200 singers open thick scores.

After one audible, collective intake of breath, amazing sound fills the small space. It’s a goose-bump moment for the visitor – and for choristers ripping through a passage as theatrical and melodic as any Verdi penned for Aida or La Traviata, the payoff for months of hard work.

But Adrian, still fine-tuning, calls a halt.

“Not so loud,” he says. “I don’t think we have to sing so loud in here, do we?”

The choristers who line the pews are from North Kitsap and Seattle, gathered for a run-through before the choirs head to Benaroya Hall for a March 13 concert directed by Adrian, and then bring the Verdi Requiem home to the island Sunday, under the baton of Anthony Spain.

For the five youngest members of the Bainbridge Chorale, the concerts also mark a debut with the singing group.

Long known for attracting seasoned vocalists, the Chorale now boasts a cadre of BHS students: freshman Caroline Austin, junior Thea Thompson, and sophomores Ruthy Linne, Lauren deNormandie and Katie Regan.

Keeping up with schoolwork while rehearsing is a challenge – but the music makes it all worthwhile, the students say.

“I’m glad to be able to sing something this beautiful,” Regan said.

For Thompson, who has sung with the Seattle Children’s Choir and whose father is music teacher in Poulsbo public schools, it’s the chance to mingle with singers of different ages that is the draw.

Linn, who plans to make a career in opera, joined Chorale on the advice of her vocal coach, Carol Buechler. Her father, a bluegrass guitarist, also joined up.

“They said they were accepting me, but they told him they were putting him on probation,” Linne said.

Credentials

The credentials of the guest soloists are impressive.

Performers include mezzo soprano Michaela Martens of Julliard Opera Center, a first-place winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; soprano Leslie McEwen, whose New York credits include Einstein on the Beach at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival and Four Saints in Three Acts with the Opera Ensemble of New York; tenor Kenneth Gayle, who has sung leading parts for Lyric Opera of Chicago and debuted with Seattle Opera as Alfred in Die Fledermaus and Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor; and bass Andrew Martens, who made his Carnegie hall debut last season with New York Grand Opera, singing Ramphis in Aida and Alvaro in Verdi’s Azira.

The rehearsal at Bethany Lutheran is their first introduction to the choristers.

Clad in sweats or blue jeans, the soloists joke with members of both choruses and trade quips with each other, taking the edge off the tension of polishing the demanding material.

The room heats up and scores double as fans whenever Adrian calls a halt.

But when the singers recommence, the music is crisp; the pianissimo “Dies Irae,” the wrath of God, is a staccato whisper, intense and scary.

Learning the Verdi Requiem has stretched the vocalists’ range, taking the altos up to an F-sharp – usually the province of first sopranos.

The piece not only asks performers to reach the extra-high and low notes, but stretches them dynamically, from triple piano to triple forte.

Since rehearsals began in January, Spain has emphasized the dynamic range. But as vocalists come to the audience, they bring more than technique.

“To me, what this is all supposed to end up with is making music, getting off the page and into your heart,” Bainbridge Chorale soprano Stephanie Harris said. “The whole point is to go beyond thinking about the ‘triple p’ to have this big emotional experience.

“Hundreds of musicians join together to realize this big creation and make it available to our own community – that just doesn’t happen here very much.”

* * * * *

Messa hall

Bainbridge Chorale and Northwest Symphony Orchestra, with Northwest Symphony, sing Giuseppe Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” 8 p.m. March 13 at Benaroya Hall and 3 p.m. March 14 at Bainbridge High School gymnasium. The Bainbridge performance also features “Lectio,” an orchestral work by Northwest Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Donald J. Stewart. Tickets for the Bainbridge concert are $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and students, available at Vern’s Winslow Drug, at the door or by calling 780-2467.

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