Polymnia brings The Creation to life

14Mar19

For those who like music spiced with a bit of history – or vice versa – last Saturday’s Polymnia Choral Society production of Franz Josef Haydn’s The Creation was a doubly rewarding experience.

The sanctuary of Wakefield’s First Parish Congregational Church was a fitting venue in which to experience Haydn’s oratorio depicting the miracle of the world’s creation. It the words of Polymnia member Eileen Worthley, “With its sublime arias, joyous choruses, energetic arpeggios, and rollicking fugues, it is altogether a jubilant work of praise to the glory of the Creator.”

Under the direction of conductor Murray Kidd, the concert featured three professional guest soloists, including Wakefield tenor Joseph Holmes, baritone Philip Lima and soprano Dana Lynne Varga, who sang the Creation story in the roles of the archangels Uriel, Raphael and Gabriel, respectively. The Polymnia singers provided rich harmonies supporting the featured soloists.

Many of the several hundred who packed the church arrived early to hear a talk by fortepianist Sylvia Berry, who is also a scholar of late 18th century music. Her talk touched on the history of Haydn’s most famous and enduring masterpiece and offered insights into the composer’s musical depictions of nature and other aspects of The Creation. She also discussed the original and replica instruments from Haydn’s time that were played Saturday night by the 20-piece orchestra, offering the audience a chance to hear the piece the way it sounded during Haydn’s lifetime over 200 years ago.

Haydn was inspired to compose The Creation during a visit to London in 1794-95, where hearing a production of Handel’s The Messiah greatly moved him and spurred his long-held desire to compose his own work of a similar scope and grandeur.

The libretto for The Creation originated with an anonymously authored English text that Haydn was given during that same trip to England. It told the Creation story through excerpts from the First Book of Genesis, various psalms and portions of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. When Haydn returned home to Vienna, he had the text translated to German and it became the libretto for his great oratorio.

In a nod to the libretto’s English origins, The Creation is still performed in both English and German to this day. The opportunity for English speakers to hear such a masterpiece in their own language can be a rare treat, as most classical pieces are not performed in English. The three featured soloists brought The Creation’s English libretto vividly to life Saturday night as Haydn’s musical painting reflected and enhanced its imagery.

Soloist Joseph Holmes graduated from Wakefield Memorial High School in 1999. The tenor was inducted into the Wakefield High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 2010. He is well-known as an operatic and concert soloist and sings throughout the United States to much critical acclaim.

Soprano Dana Lynne Varga, is a much sought-after concert soloist. She won first place in the 2016 Classical Singer National Competition, and second place in the 2016 Rochester Oratorio Society’s Classical Idol Competition. She has amassed accolades for her numerous operatic roles.

Baritone Philip Lima has regularly garnered critical acclaim for his performances on both concert and operatic stages. Mr. Lima has sung a wide array of leading operatic roles, including world premieres.

Saturday’s presentation of The Creation offered local audiences a rare opportunity to see and hear a grand production of a great work of classical music at a reasonable price and without having to travel into the big city.

Mark your calendars for Polymnia’s spring pops concert on June 1, when the versatile chorus will present “Revolver,” featuring the music of the Beatles’ iconic album of that name as well as other favorites. This concert will be at Memorial Hall in Melrose.

Founded in Wakefield in 1953 and based in Melrose since 1956, the Polymnia Choral Society serves the cultural and educational interests of a number of communities north of Boston by presenting concerts ranging from sacred hymns and classical music to popular show tunes.

The chorus includes more than 60 voices, with most of the singers coming from Melrose, Malden, Wakefield, Stoneham and Saugus. Some members come from as far away as Concord, Westborough, Marblehead and Topsfield.

Polymnia Choral Society is a non-profit organization, supported in part by grants and donations. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

Polymnia welcomes anyone who enjoys singing to come to a rehearsal and join the chorus. Rehearsals take place on Tuesday evenings, 7-9:30 p.m. at the Melrose Highlands Church at 355 Franklin St., Melrose.

[This story originally appeared in the March 13, 2019 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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