“When you listen to this music, please remember that the great composers of these pieces wrote these sacred songs as prayers, as offerings to the divine. These great composers filled each piece with all their heart and soul, as a reflection of their own deep faith and reverence. And that intention and inspiration, the awe that fills their souls, comes through the centuries down to us in these selections. – From the liner notes to Voices of the Sacred
A chance meeting in a Mediterranean restaurant in Chicago led author Caroline Myss to become a patron of the Bellissima Opera.
After leaning over towards the next table to ask, “What are you having?” Myss engaged a man in conversation. This gentleman proceeded to tell her that he had just completed a production of Madame Butterfly, then, mid-sentence, began to sing in Italian—to the amazement of the other diners. Soprano Christine Steyer, also seated with the gentlemen, joined in him an operatic duo—right in the middle of this restaurant.
Myss then asked the Bellissima Opera, of which these two belonged, to sing at her brother’s fiftieth birthday party. During the performance, Myss noticed that when they sang a sacred aria, a different atmosphere permeated the small theater they were in—one of reverence and awe.
Now, in the CD Caroline Myss’ Voices of the Sacred, the Bellissima Opera stands poised to transport listeners to a feeling place of stillness and awe. The members of the Bellissima Opera are:
Franco Martorana – Tenor
Christine Steyer – Soprano
Dominique Frigo – Mezzo-Soprano
Patrick Blackwell – Bass-Baritone
Edward Zelnis – Organ and Piano
Paul Geiger – Bellissima Opera Co-Founder
The a total run time of just over an hour, Voices of the Sacred delivers soaring operatic selections with minimal musical accompaniment—only piano or organ. Recorded in the First United Church of Oak Park (Illinois), selections range from sacred music of Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn to American spirituals and hymns.
1. Stabat Mater Dolorosa – Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
2. Pieta Signore – Louis Niedermeyer
3. Tu Virginum Corona – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
4. Deep River – Spiritual
5. He Shall Feed His Flock – George Frideric Handel
6. In the Garden – C. Austin Miles
7. If With All Your Hearts – Felix Mendelssohn
8. Repentir – Charles Gounod
9. The People That Walked in Darkness – George Frideric Handel
10. Panis Angelicus – Cesar Franck
11. Expectans Expectavi – Camille Saint-Saens
12. Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
13. Steal Away – Spiritual
14. He’s the One Who Set Me Free – Daniel Vines
15. I Waited for the Lord – Felix Mendelssohn
16. Ave Verum – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
We love a variety of musical styles in our home, but opera is one genre we don’t have (until now!). I asked my 9-year old if he’d like to try it out with me, telling him that both classical music and opera helps fuel creativity and inventions. Well, being a budding “inventor” who loves to draw designs, he readily agreed!
So we sat on the couch of our “lobby”, as we call it, and I reclined to take in the music as my son sat on the other side drawing plans with colored pencils. Midway through the first song, he looked up and said “Wow”.
Wow, indeed. The female vocals were glorious! On the second song, the female soloist reaches the stratosphere; my son made the sound of shattering glass—but after a few seconds, he began to applaud (?!) saying “Cool song. Good voice.” (I think he was as in awe as I was!)
The only “false notes” on the Voices of the Sacred CD (if you want to call them that) were the spirituals sung in baritone and a few of the “Sunday School” songs. The former were depressing sounding and the latter brought back unpleasant memories and feelings of time spent in old Pentecostal churches: “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own…” Sorry, but words such as “Never let me be condemned to hell in the eternal fire of your sternness” (Pieta Signore) or “Of the vengeful justice turn away the blows, my Savior! …I’ll kill my flesh under the weight of the hair-shirt and my heart altered by the bloody sacrifice will bless the lenient rigors of your hand” (Repentir) aren’t my idea of spiritual truths conducive to mystical ecstasy! (In my opinion, Women in Chant: The Announcement of Christmas - Nuns of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, also by Sounds True, is a more favorable CD for veneration and spiritual contemplation). Overall, Caroline Myss’ Voices of the Sacred is a nice introduction to Christian opera and a lovely introduction to the Bellissima Opera. At times (especially the first and last selection), their voices elicit a jaw-dropping pause of all activity (or even thinking). In fact, my son says he enjoyed it very much and will add it to his own CD collection numbering close to 100 (and, believe me, it takes high caliber music to get into HIS collection!).
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