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Live Arts Maryland delivers soaring music for 'Fiddler' performances

For The Baltimore Sun

On a cold winter weekend, J. Ernest Green and Live Arts Maryland musicians brought the warmth of the classic Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" to local audiences.

In shows at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis and the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum at North County High School, Annapolis Chorale members and soloists portrayed all the characters defined in Jerry Bock's timeless score.

Winner of nine 1964 Tony Awards, including best musical, "Fiddler" was once the longest-running Broadway musical. It has also become part of our cultural fabric, with "Sunrise, Sunset" having replaced "Here Comes the Bride" in countless marriage ceremonies over the past 50 years.

The challenge of introducing something new to this revisited work was met by Green, the Live Arts music director whose production included the Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and 16 soloists.

In the small Russian village of Anatevka, impoverished dairyman Tevye clings to his revered traditions as he struggles to support wife Golde and daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava.

After Tevye has given his daughter Tzeitel's hand to wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf, he relents after realizing Tzeitel's unhappiness at the prospect of being Lazar's wife. Gradually Tevye copes with his daughters' newer ideas — if unable always to accept them. Cast as Tevye in the Live Arts production, Richard Koons delivered a consummate vocal portrayal of the dairyman.

Annapolis Chorale members deliver on the play's themes of home and family, adding infectious exuberance of "To Life (L'chaim)" and devotion of homeland heard in "Anatevka." Tevye dreams of wealth in "If I Were a Rich Man" and his daughters desire to decide their own fate in "Matchmaker."

Noteworthy performances were delivered by favorite soprano Carolene Winter, who displayed unsuspected comedic gifts as matchmaker Yente, and the gifted Kimberly Christie, another soprano whose skill as actress matches her vocal gifts.

For multitasking versatility, tenor David Merrill displayed impressive acting skills and athleticism in dance as Fyedka.

Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra members invested each song with verve and soul, from the opener, "Tradition," through to the end.

The Live Arts company again set new benchmarks for the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum. PAAL President Eloise Vaughan said perhaps 700 attended PAAL's performance, on a day when not everything went completely smoothly.

"A pipe burst upstairs ... but the escaping steam set off the alarms so everyone had to leave the auditorium" during intermission, Vaughan said. "The fire department came quickly and took care of safety, and the show went on."

Having delivered this animated, deeply spiritual "Fiddler," Green moves from Broadway musical to the classical realm for this season's two remaining concerts.

Preparing for March 20-21 performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's "St. John Passion" at St. Anne's Church in Annapolis, Green has chosen soloists including soprano Jessica Satava, mezzo Catrin Davies, operatic and pops tenor Frederic Ray, versatile tenor David Merrick, bass Ethan Herschenfeld as Jesus, and bass Matthew Anchel singing the role of Pilate.

Among the most powerful dramatic works of the repertoire, Green calls Bach's masterwork "one of the great settings of the Passion, intense and powerful from its opening chorus to the final moments at graveside."

Those who wish to experience the power of this Bach masterwork in concert can purchase tickets at liveartsmaryland.org.

The 2014-2015 season closes April 10-11 with the classical program "Gloria!" at Maryland Hall, featuring Karl Jenkins' work, weaving together texts from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism to create extraordinary music. That work is paired with Anton Bruckner's "Te Deum."

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