Hallelujah! It's ‘Messiah' time for area choruses

Mark Munson, director of choral activities at BGSU, will conduct the combined choirs, orchestra, and soloists this weekend.
Mark Munson, director of choral activities at BGSU, will conduct the combined choirs, orchestra, and soloists this weekend.

It's Messiah time again, that end of year period when America's conscience swings between "reason for the season" sentiments and frantic shopping sprees.

Churchgoers call it Advent, a period for reflection and prayer before the Dec. 25 Christmas holiday.

For members of the Toledo Choral Society, the Toledo Symphony, and the Bowling Green State University Choral Union, it's time to open those thick scores and start singing the stirring solos and choruses penned by George Frideric Handel.

Time for the spirited Hallelujah chorus to resonate once more while many hum or sing along.

In Toledo, the annual performances are set for 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Mark Munson, director of choral activities at BGSU, will conduct the combined choirs, orchestra, and soloists.

Stepping up to sing the challenging solos will be vocalists drawn from the region's trove of fine voices: Denise Bernardini, soprano; Julia Mintzer, mezzo; Shawn Mathey, tenor, and Jeff Wisniewski, bass-baritone.

Watching carefully with an educated eye and ear will be Rick Napierala II, the new director of the Toledo Choral Society.

Selected by audition last spring after long-time conductor Sam Szor announced his retirement from the post, Napierala has prepared the Toledo Choral Society since September.

However, without sufficient rehearsal time in this busy season and because he had not conducted full choir and orchestra before in the demanding work, the new chorus master deferred to Munson, who has shared conducting duties with Szor since 2009.

Napierala, a Toledo native with several graduate music degrees from the University of Toledo, says he once sang with the Choral Society. "I worked with Sam in the bass section," he said.

"It was a challenge coming in and following someone who has had the success Sam has had. Anytime you're the new person on the block it's a challenge."

Since he picked up the choral baton, he has made changes. Rehearsals are in a new location. More people are turning up for Monday night rehearsals. New repertoire is in the works for concerts later this season.

"We're no longer just performing one concert a season," he said, describing a program of contemporary sacred and secular works planned for May 2013.

Napierala also literally moved the three performing groups to the same musical page by ordering new parts for the Choral Society which matched what the Toledo symphony and BGSU were using.

For years, the Toledo Choral Society, BGSU, and the Symphony used different editions and made it work. This year, Napierala pushed to make the editions consistent over all the performing groups.

Messiah was created in 1741 as a commercial venture by Handel and his librettist, Charles Jennens, and ever since its premieres — in Dublin 1742 and London 1743 — it has generated passion and discussion.

Tickets for the Toledo Choral Society-Toledo Symphony-BGSU performances are $25-30 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.

This weekend's local performances are not the only opportunities to hear Messiah — or even to sing it with others.

In Ann Arbor, the Grammy Award-winning University of Michigan Choral Union with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra will perform the work under the direction of Jerry Blackstone at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 and 2 p.m. Dec. 2 in Hill Auditorioum. Soloists will be soprano Julianna Di Giacomo, mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor William Burden, and bass Morris Robinson. Edward Parmentier will provide continuo on the harpsichord.

Tickets are $10-36 at 734-764-2538 or www.ums.org.

A week from Sunday Masterworks Chorale will lead its annual community sing-along version at 4 p.m. Dec. 9 in Olivet Lutheran Church, 5840 Monroe St. The event is free to the public with scores available for purchase at the door. Canned goods will be collected for giving later.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.