The members of the Corvallis Repertory Singers have their work cut out for them when they tackle Franz Josef Haydn's "The Creation" at 3 p.m. Sunday at the First United Methodist Church, 1165 NW Monroe Ave. in Corvallis.
The work, which portrays the six days of God's creation, beginning with an orchestral portrait of chaos and ending with the birth of a new world, represents the sternest musical challenge yet for the Repertory Singers, said Steven Zielke, the artistic director of the Repertory Singers and the Patricia Valian Reser professor of music at Oregon State University.
“This piece has it all," Zielke said in comments included in a press release. "Intricate fugal choruses that harken back to both Handel and Bach, recitative [the parts of the text chanted in a speech-like manner] in the operatic style of Mozart, brilliant and challenging solo work, and of course, Haydn’s classical orchestral writing.”
It's the first time the Repertory Singers have performed the oratorio. But it's not Zielke's first exposure to it.
"I really don’t remember when I first heard it," he said. "I sang it for Robert Shaw during my graduate studies at Florida State, and was thoroughly in love with it. In end, it was the first masterwork that I chose to conduct. During my teaching at the University of Arizona, I was asked to conduct the summer choir and orchestra in a work of my choice. My first choice was this work.
"My heavens, I was unprepared and unqualified to conduct. I had never done a work of this magnitude, and the many recitatives, and the complexity of the orchestra was beyond my experience. I remember between part one and two ... Robert Swenson, the tenor, said that I was like a person having their first birth. He meant it compassionately, and he was there to help me."
Haydn was influenced by the oratorios being turned out at the time by his contemporary, George Frideric Handel. But, unlike Handel's work, "The Creation" features actual characters: Soloists portray the archangels Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel and the first humans, Adam and Eve. Soloists for this performance are baritone Anthony Eversole (Raphael), tenor Bryce Tomlin (Uriel), soprano Emma Nissen (Gabriel), baritone Kevin Helppie (Adam), and soprano Sandra Babb (Eve).
"The Creation" has remained popular since its first performance in 1799. A couple of years after the work’s premiere, Haydn wrote that he hoped his work would bring “peace and refreshment” to careworn souls, Zielke said — and he hopes Sunday's performance has that same effect on listeners.
“I too want our audience to feel, in this world of chaos and uncertainty and anger and angst, the sense of order and preciseness that Haydn brings to this work,” Zielke said. “Of course, his world was a mess as well. But not the world he created in his 'Creation.'”
Tickets are $25 for main floor seats and $18 for balcony seats. In Corvallis, tickets are available at Grass Roots Books & Music, Troubadour Music, and Susan’s Garden and Coffee Shop. In Albany, tickets are available at Sid Stevens Jewelers. They also can be purchased at the Repertory Singers' website, www.repsing.org. If seats are available, high school and college students are admitted free with student ID; younger students are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.