Tenor Andrew Brock (left) plays Obadiah; Spencer Schmidt (front) plays a shepherd boy; and Jacque Schmidt vocalizes with the choir in the Rogue Valley Chorale's production of Mendelssohn's 'Elijah' at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. - Photo by Jim Craven

A story full of drama, miracles and divine intervention

The Old Testament story of "Elijah" has been an inspiration to many people over the ages. Some have deemed the prophet to be the greatest hero of the Israelites after Moses. The story is full of drama, miracles and divine intervention. No wonder Felix Mendelssohn wanted to tell the story in a choral rendering.

And no wonder choirs ever since its premiere in 1846 have wanted to perform the piece. The Rogue Valley Chorale will have the opportunity when it presents the classic oratorio at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 and again at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Making it all happen is a considerable undertaking. It was the voice of experience from producing musicals and operas that prompted Rogue Valley Chorale artistic director and conductor Lynn Sjolund to say, "You never understand until you get into something how complex it's going to be." He was convinced he wasn't going to tackle such a production.

But that was before he spoke with Chris Thompson. Thompson is assistant professor of voice at the University of Idaho and was Sjolund's choral assistant 20 years ago at Loyola University.

Thompson, a baritone, has sung in concert and opera in New York, San Diego, Kansas and Louisiana. He staged "Elijah" in a performance that was a departure from the standard formal presentation of an oratorio. The individual voices were more fully realized as characters in the story, almost as in a play.

Sjolund saw the possibilities for his singers and the audience and decided to include "Elijah" in the chorale's 2007-08 season.

Thompson will be staging Rogue Valley Chorale's production as well as singing the lead role. In this semi-staged performance, everyone will be in costume. The eight principal singers will each be dressed in accordance with their role in the story. The 100 members of the choir will be dressed alike. Earth tones will be the dominant hue and not white. Jeannie Saint Germain is the creativity behind the costume designs. A member of the chorale, Saint Germain was chief costume designer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She has studied each character and created a costume that is not only appropriate but that is intended to enhance the audience's experience of who that person is portraying in the story.

The cast for "Elijah" includes Thompson as Elijah; Andrew Brock, tenor, as Obadiah; Ralph Dady, tenor, as Ahab; Ellie Holt-Murray, soprano, as the Widow; Anita Caster, mezzo soprano, as an Angel; Susan Olson-White, soprano, as an Angel; Barbara Kinsman, mezzo soprano, Queen Jezebel; and Spencer Smith as a youth.

Andrea Brock is the pianist and Linda Borecki will be playing the Trillium Masterpiece T968 organ provided specially for the performance by Rogers Instrument Corporation in Hillsboro. Brad Nelson is the lighting designer and technician.

The Rogue Valley Chorale is Southern Oregon's oldest public choral organization. It was founded in 1973 by a group of local musicians who wanted to provide a forum for performing fine choral music. Today, the chorale is made up of individuals from all walks of life.

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