"See the conquering hero comes," sang the Alexandria Choral Society, "Sound the trumpets, beat the drums." Right on cue, the trumpets and drums filled the high-vaulted, echoing space of the National City Christian Church. The Alexandria All-City Elementary Chorus, in the role of "Israelitish youths and maidens," marched up the center aisle, throwing flowers into the audience. Behind them marched tenor Gene Tucker, triumphantly singing the title role in Handel's "Judas Maccabaeus."
The event was worth trumpets and drums (as well as violas and all the other instruments), not only for its generally high musical quality but for the spark of originality in music director Kerry Krebill's choice of repertoire. While every other chorus in America seems to be doing Handel's Christmas oratorio, "Messiah," she chose to do his Hanukah oratorio instead.
The seasonal element was emphasized in the key scene where baritone Ralph Davison sang (with ideal style and tone) one of the key arias, ". . . While we prepare, with holy rites,/To solemnize the Feast of Lights . . ." with a yarmulke and prayer shawl. The performance was given twice, with ecumenical overtones -- the first on Saturday night at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria.
"Judas Maccabaeus" is somewhere between oratorio and a militant opera about Israel's struggle for liberation from Syria. It is full of splendid moments dealing with death and glory on the battlefield (though all the fighting takes place offstage), lots of pomp and ceremony, and some fine religious music. It also has its longueurs, but it was neatly trimmed to less than three hours for this performance. The chorus sang splendidly (though its diction was sometimes fuzzed by the church's acoustics), and all four soloists were well versed in Baroque style. Mezzo-soprano Marianna Busching was notable for rich, velvet tone, soprano Donna Gulstrand for agile coloratura singing. Krebill conducted a well-paced, excellently balanced interpretation.