The Willoughby Symphony and Choir combined to bring us an absolutely superb concert , the first of this year’s season, simply entitled GALA .  They were precisely and energetically conducted by the inspirational Dr Nicholas Milton who also introduced the various pieces and the soloists . The Choir is directed by Chorus Master Peter Ellis The program had an Italian opera theme with works by Puccini ,Rossini , Verdi etc. and the excellent soloists were from Pacific Opera.

The concert began with the darkly dramatic , tumultuous fireworks of the overture to La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) by Verdi . Crashing ominous , opening chords were contrasted with lush violins and flowing woodwind in an explosive performance.

Mezzo Barbara Jin in a stunning red formal gown was the featured soloist for Una voce poco fa from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville . As Rosina she was all sweet and cute at first, positively purring ,but then revealed her hidden claws . Her voice was dark velvety chocolate in the lower range and sparkled in the higher , with great effect in the coloratura displays.

Next came the sweepingly passionate Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with its lush, poignant strings.

A popular piece for both choir and orchestra followed – the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore , briskly , stirringly performed .

Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto was delightfully performed by soprano Ayako Ohtake in an enchanting pale apricot frothy gown .As Gilda, with huge flashing eyes , Ohtake was dizzy with the joy of being in love and her coloratura was bubbly like champagne.

To take us to interval we heard Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien , a virtuoso showpiece for the Orchestra and opening with military trumpets. It is perhaps more reminiscent of his orchestral works rather than his ballets and features ominous rumbling undertones of woodwind and horns , swirling rhythms , fast furious strings and a bright oboe all leading to a crashing , thunderous conclusion.

The jaunty, darting overture from Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie opened the second half of the concert with snare drums on either side of the stage for stereo effect . Its skittering ,insistent melody led to a breathless finale.

Conducted by Luke Spicer ,Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from Puccini’s La Rondine with Dr Milton on piano was wistfully , lyrically sung by soprano Pamela Andrews . Andrews , wearing a delightful red dress with a black sash belt , was in fine, strong ,soaring vocal form .

Then came the compelling ,rousing Va, pensiero ( Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco , combining again the forces of the Orchestra and Choir – very moving .

A highlight of the concert was the glorious , hearbreaking performance by tenor Caleb Son of E Lucevan le Stelle from Pucini’s Tosca.

The final work listed was Respighi’s The Pines of the Appian Way from his The Pines of Rome – with its soft , delicate opening , eerie flitting strings leading to the Orchestra portraying the relentless , driven tramp of a ghostly ancient Roman army.

After much prolonged applause the encore was the ever popular lilting Brindisi ( drinking song) from Verdi’s La Traviata – the female opera soloists in full formal evening gowns , quite Victorian in style with long sleeved gloves , the men in tuxedos . Son sung the part of Alfredo.The audience was encouraged to stand and join in the chorus to much general enthusiasm and enjoyment , a wonderful way to end a thrilling concert.

Willoughby Symphony and choir in Gala was at the Concourse Chatswood 3 and  4 February 2018.  To see more of their Soaring Spirit season visit the Concourse website, Willoughby Symphony Choir website or Facebook.