Music groups collaborate for vibrant oratorio

The Geneseo Symphony Orchestra, the Geneseo Festival Chorus and three soloists performed Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” on Nov. 22 in the Wadsworth Auditorium. Music department chair and Festival Chorus director Gerard Floriano conducted both groups. The soloists were adjunct lecturer in music Amy Cochrane as soprano, Matthew Valverdo as tenor and Jorell Williams as baritone. “The Creation” is an oratorio—a lengthy composition based on a sacred text that gained popularity during the Baroque era. Together, the orchestra, chorus and soloists made the composition come alive through outstanding vocals and dramatic harmonies.

An oratorio is similar to an opera in that it uses characters, a storyline, an ensemble and a choir. It does not include acting, scenery or costumes, however. “The Creation” tells the story of the origin of the world as depicted in the Book of Genesis from the Bible. The three soloists represented the three archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. The first movement is the creation of the planets and the universe, the second movement is about the creation of animals, man and woman and the third movement tells the story of Adam and Eve.

The structure of Haydn’s oratorio consists of 13 short movements in the first part followed by 15 short movements in the second and third parts. Recitatives and arias alternated between the movements as well as the choral parts. Recitatives are spoken parts while arias are sung melodies that can be with or without orchestral accompaniment. With each recitative, a harpsichord was played to introduce it.

The soloists showed off a wide range of tones and sounds that they were able to create with just their voices. Cochrane shocked the audience with her ability to hit very high notes with incredible dexterity while Valverdo gave a stellar performance as a tenor. Lastly, Williams impressed the audience with his extremely low vocal tonal range.

The orchestra delivered a performance equivalent to that of the soloists. The orchestra played throughout almost the entirety of the composition, with short breaks during the solo parts.

Tone painting was utilized when the orchestra played. With that technique, the music coming from the orchestra itself depicts actions without words. “The Creation” uses a larger orchestra similar to the one used in the Classical era. The Classical orchestra had the typical setup of the string section but also included three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns. In addition, a harpsichord was used during the performance for the recitatives.

Lastly, the chorus was given many major parts during the movements of the piece. Consisting of both men and women, the chorus would split between sopranos and baritones in a duet-like fashion. The chorus elevated the dramatic feel to the movements that were created by the soloists and orchestra.

“The Creation” was one of the two oratorios that Haydn wrote during his lifetime. It is a long and exhausting piece to perform, lasting over an hour and a half. Together, the Geneseo Symphony Orchestra, the Geneseo Festival Chorus and the three soloists delivered a flawless performance of a much-revered piece.