Bethany College and local sponsors welcome soloists from the American Spiritual Ensemble to the 132nd Messiah Festival of the Arts, which includes the longest running “Messiah” performance in North America.
American soprano Karen Slack, American mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke, tenor John Wesley Wright, and bass Michael Preacely of the American Spiritual Ensemble and Bach baritone Daniel Belcher join the Bethany Oratorio Society for their traditional performances of Handel’s “Messiah” on Palm Sunday and Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” on Good Friday.
In addition, the American Spiritual Ensemble professionals will take the stage on Easter Sunday to perform “A Spiritual Messiah,” bringing culture, diversity, and the art form of the African-American spiritual to Presser Hall. It will be a musically reflective and uplifting experience that none should miss!
American soprano Karen Slack, sponsored by Peoples Bank and Trust, is hailed by critics for possessing a lustrous voice of extraordinary beauty and dramatic depth. She has sung with noted conductors, leading opera companies and symphony orchestras around the world. Slack is the featured opera soloist in Lionsgate and Tyler Perry Studios’ major motion picture and soundtrack “For Colored Girls” released in November 2010. Slack made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2006 in the title role of Luisa Miller and quickly followed that with performances at San Francisco Opera, Carnegie Hall, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia and Melbourne Symphony (Australia). The New York Times described her singing as “warmly expressive, especially in her brilliant top.” The Financial Times labeled her “a radiant spinto soprano.” Recent engagements include the role of Cilla in the American opera Margaret Garner for Michigan Opera Theater, soprano soloist for Verdi Requiem with Madison Symphony Orchestra, Serena in Porgy and Bess for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera, Violetta in La Traviata for Sacramento Opera and West Bay Opera, soloist with the Cincinnati Pops and May Festival Chorus. Upcoming engagements include the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2014.
American mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke, sponsored by The Associated Churches of Lindsborg (TACOL), has been hailed by the press as a “radiant and confident” performer and “a singer who communicates both the music and the text impeccably.” Her “striking voice-acting and stage movement” is especially evident in her performances of leading roles such as Carmen, Nerone in “The Coronation of Poppea,” Jo March in Adamo’s “Little Women” and Lucretia in “The Rape of Lucretia.” As a soloist in several seasons of New York City Opera’s VOX concerts, she has sung a variety of styles, including roles in Scott Davenport Richards’ jazz opera, Charlie Crosses the Nation and Gordon Beeferman’s post-modern Ratland. As an orchestral concert soloist, Duke has performed at major venues such as Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. Duke has been a featured soloist in Falla’s “El Amor Brujo,” Bach’s “B-Minor Mass,” St. John’s “Passion” and “Weihnachts-Oratorium,” Beethoven’s “Mass in C” and “Choral Fantasy,” Duruflé’s “Requiem,” several Haydn masses, Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” Mozart’s “Vesperes Solennes,” Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” Vaughan-Williams’ “Magnificat,” Saint-Saëns’ “Christmas Oratorio” and of course, Händel’s “Messiah,” as well as orchestral “Pops” concerts. Duke, a Texas native, graduated summa cum laude from Texas Woman’s University where she studied with prolific vocal textbook author Joan Wall. She received her graduate degree in Opera Performance from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. She currently resides in New York City.
Tenor John Wesley Wright, sponsored by Scott’s Hometown Foods, is known for his artistic and soulful interpretations of music ranging from baroque to Broadway.He has performed a nationally televised concert for the Belgian Royal Family and toured as a soloist in professional ensembles throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. Attaining a host of opera and oratorio roles, art songs, spirituals, and cabaret music in his repertoire, Wright is a member of the acclaimed American Spiritual Ensemble and is highlighted in the recent PBS documentary “The Spirituals: Featuring the American Spiritual Ensemble.” In addition to recording and touring with the ASE, Wright was invited to Osaka and Tokyo in December to perform Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah benefit concerts to support the amnesty efforts of the Japan International Volunteer Center. Wright has taught at Salisbury University since 2006. He has served as artist-in-residence at the University of Dayton for eight years and guest artist and teacher at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Kentucky Governor’s School, and the Maryland Summer Center for the Arts held at Salisbury University. Wright holds degrees from Maryville College and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and is an active clinician, vocal consultant, and leader of workshops on singing in the African-American tradition.
Bass Michael Preacely, sponsored by Jim Prugh of Tradhuset, is from Chicago, Ill., and a recent recipient of his master’s degree from the University of Kentucky. This past November, Preacely made his Kentucky Opera debut singing the role of Scarpia in “Tosca” and his Cincinnati Opera debut singing the role of Jake in its summer 2012 production of “Porgy and Bess.” His other most recent staged roles include Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” Ford in “Falstaff,” The High Priest of Dagon in “Samson and Delilah,” Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” Porgy in “Porgy and Bess,” and Marcelle in “La Boheme.” Preacely recently made debuts as a guest soloist with the Cincinnati Pops and the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra of Hamilton Ohio. He currently lives in Lexington, Ky., with his wife and two children.
Bach baritone Daniel Belcher is a 2011 Grammy Award winner who has been described as having a voice “of beautiful melting sweetness…” by the German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and the theatrical talent “to create a first-rate portrayal that drew the listener more and more into the hopes and despair of his character” by The Houston Chronicle. Belcher’s recent performances include his debut in Spain as Mercutio in ABAO-OLBE Bilbao’s production of “Romeo and Juliette,” his role debut as as Chou En-Lai in “Nixon in China” by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Dandini in Madison Opera’s “La cenerentola.” He has also performed with Opera Colorado, Stadttheater Klagenfurt in Austria, San Francisco Opera, Utah Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, and Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera. Belcher’s concert work includes “Carmina Burana” with the Pacific Symphony in a program that also featured Copland’s “Old American Songs,” and Gounod’s “St. Cecilia Mass” and Vaughan Williams’ “Hodie” for performances in New York City. He was featured with the Houston Symphony Orchestra in concerts of opera favorites and made his National Symphony Orchestra debut in a concert titled “A Night in Vienna.”
Conducting the soloists and the Bethany Oratorio Society is Jeffery Wall, sponsored by Tad Doering and family. Wall is Bethany College’s director of choral activities and Elmer F. Pierson Distinguished Professor of Music. He earned his doctor of musical arts degree from the University of South Carolina, his master’s from the University of Tennessee, and his bachelor’s from Texas Tech University. He has experience in collegiate, high school, professional, community, and church settings. Wall has taught at Bethany since 2010, previously serving at Georgia State University and New Mexico Junior College.
The Bethany Oratorio Society, sponsored by Lindsborg Realty and McPherson Abstract, was founded in December 1881. Forty parishioners were welcomed to the parsonage of Bethany College founder and pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church Carl Aaron Swensson and his wife Alma to learn the words and music of “Messiah.” Almost all of them were immigrants from Sweden who still lived in a pioneer world of sod houses, but Alma Swensson, an accomplished musician, worked with the singers throughout the winter and spring in helping them learn the music as well as the English words. The first performance by the Bethany Oratorio Society was on March 28, 1882, in Bethany Lutheran Church and the college and people of Lindsborg continue to carry on the tradition.
Handel’s “Messiah” will be presented on Palm Sunday, March 24, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $17 and $22. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” will be presented on Good Friday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $17. The American Spiritual Ensemble’s “A Spiritual Messiah” will be presented on Easter Sunday, March 31, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $17 and $22.
Patrons ordering tickets by February 15 will receive priority selection of seating. A special $5 discount per ticket is available for teachers, seniors, churches, and tour groups of 15 or more. High school students are invited to attend free of charge and their family members will receive $5 off their tickets.
To purchase tickets, call Bethany’s Messiah Coordinator Blakely Bunning at (785) 227-3380, ext. 8137, between 1 and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bethany Oratorio Society has presented Handel’s Messiah every year since 1882, making it the longest consecutive annual rendition in North America. World-renowned soloists perform with the Society for audiences at the college, across the plains, in Carnegie Hall, and on national television. Messiah is performed during Bethany College’s annual Messiah Festival of the Arts, when hundreds of guests enjoy the weeklong celebration of sacred music concerts, art exhibitions, and theatre performances. For the full listing of Festival events, visit www.bethanylb.edu//messiah.