The Broad Stage at Santa Monica City College was alive with the spirit of Christmas on Sunday, December 14, when Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra teamed up with Tölzer Knabenchor, the renowned boys choir established in Germany in 1956, to present Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” The sold-out crowd remained hushed and happy during the two-hour performance, which included four of the six parts of the Oratorio.
The show was conducted by Martin Haselböck, Musica Angelica conductor and music director. German tenor Markus Schäfer, a graduate of the Opera Studio in Zurich and baritone Randall Scarlata, who has sung many of Bach’s cantatas in the past, also performed select segments of the piece. The program consisted of Parts I, II and II of the Oratorio, written by Bach for the first three days of Christmas. The group skipped Parts IV and V, finishing with Part VI, which celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, wherein the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape King Herod’s soldiers.
“Although Bach did not compose opera, with the ‘Christmas Oratorio’, he came very close,” said Musica Angelica’s Executive Director, Laura Spino. “The work was a truly operatic expression of faith for 18th century Christians. At the same time, while it’s not as well known as Handel’s Messiah, the ‘Christmas Oratorio’ is just the kind of uplifting, festive music we crave during the holiday season.”
The show was indeed uplifting and seasonally appropriate, and the mood was celebratory. There were five young soloists who took center stage for particular arias. Sopranos Andreas Morwald and Simon Bohrenfeldt sang cherubic sections of the piece, while Daniel Kahmer played the angel. Altos Jonas Hausler and Alexander Rampp also showcased stunning vocals. The text was sung entirely in German and a program written in both German and English provided the narrative.
The concert was one of two scheduled Los Angeles performances of the Oratorio, but due to sell-out houses at both the Broad Stage and the Zipper Concert Hall, Tölzer Knabenchor and Musica Angelica made an additional appearance on Monday evening, December 15, at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica. The program that evening also showcased the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, featuring a choir of 20 boys and 12 men singing a collection of some of Bach’s most beautiful motets.