Ars Nova Presents Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah

By Dr. Ginger Beazley
Artistic Director
Ars Nova School of the Arts

Ars Nova Singers presents excerpts from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratoria, Elijah. One of the more popular oratorios historically Mendelssohn’s collaborated with Julius Schubring, to create the German text telling the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah. However, in 1845, the composer worked with William Bartholomew, known for his skill as a translator, amateur poet and composer.

Together they created an English text, paying great attention to matching the rhythm and stresses of the language to the musical phrases of the music. The work was first performed in England in 1846, co-produced by Mendelssohn, and it was immediately acclaimed by a critic of the Times, “Never was there a more complete triumph, never a more thorough and speedy recognition of a great work of art.”

The thirteen voice ensemble will present Biblical scriptures with dramatic speaking to provide the context of the story form 1st and 2nd Kings. Adam O’Boyle, joined by a chamber instrumental group, accompanies the singers in a grouping of arias, duets and choruses including If With All Your Hearts, and the famous soprano aria from Part II, Hear Ye, O Israel. Mendelssohn was adamant that the librettist prioritize dramatic action over excessive contemplation. Oratorio historian, Howard E Smither, suggested that Elijah functions as the opera that Mendelssohn never got to write.

Now enters the problem of singing this amazing music, while making sure that every word and detail may be understood by our English speaking audience. The classical vocal world turns on the axis of legato singing. Many of us have spent YEARS perfecting the technique only to discover that not one word can be understood; which would explain why so many of us prefer singing almost any language other than English. Of course, that assumes that the majority of our audiences are not fluent in German, French or Russian (a reference to Ars Nova’s amazing presentation of a Russian opera last year. And yes all the singing was in Russian).
However, the advantages of being educators as well as performers, we embrace the challenge to learn how to balance fluidity with articulation and inflection of the language. Therefore, our rehearsal time has been delegated to just that craft. Particularly when the text is so sacred and inspired, it would be tragic if you as an audience could not hear, embrace, and understand what we have prepared for you.

So, come with expectations to learn more about this fiery prophet Elijah as well as Obadiah, an Angel and a chorus of committed singers who are singing in your language.

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