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Hallelujah Project 2013

High­low variety hours ­ Santa Barbara Choral Society’s ‘Hallelujah Project’ is a crowd­pleaser

By JOSEF WOODARD, NEWS­PRESS CORRESPONDENT

December 22, 2013 12:19 AM

Eduardo Villa sings 'Nacio en Belen' at the Lobero - Photo by David Bazemore ( SB Newspress)

Eduardo Villa sings ‘Nacio en Belen’ at the Lobero – Photo by David Bazemore ( SB Newspress)

Santa Barbara’s choral music fans may be going through a touch of “Messiah” withdrawal this year. Handel’s great “Messiah,” that Baroque staple of the Christmas season, was heard in half its length a year ago, in concert by the Santa Barbara Choral Society.

This year, all we got was the brief, detached “Hallelujah Chorus,” programmed as a strangely out­of­context confection as the second piece in the group’s crowd­pleaser variety program at the Lobero Theatre last weekend cleverly named “The Hallelujah Project.” Heavier doses of Handel will have to wait for another year.

Overall, the musical fare was light on the ears and senses, and geared more towards a general audience compared to more serious musical holiday shows presented by the group.

The concept, which played out nicely in the sparkling new renovated space of the Lobero, drew generous audiences and kept spirits on the light side. Those of us seeking to bask in the more substantial end of the choral music spectrum had to succumb to the festivities, knowing the serious matters will return to the group’s agenda.

With a large component of instrumentalists and singers densely packing the Lobero stage, the program mixed morsels of seriousness —such as bass DeAndre Simmons singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” — with Hollywood ear candies, such as film composer king John Williams’ “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,” to open the second half.

Santa Barbara Choral Society tenor Eduardo Villa sings “Born in Bethlehem” during Sunday’s Hallelujah Project show at the Lobero Theatre.

Tenor Eduardo Villa, who grew up in Santa Barbara and has matriculated through the world’s finer opera houses, graced us with a lovely tune, “Born in Bethlehem,” by his grandfather, and John Rutter’s “Esta Noche.”

For this occasion, actually, the fine and large Choral Society chorus, directed for 21 years now by JoAnne Wasserman, wasn’t given as much of a spotlight as we might hope for.

They did, however, usher in some out­of­the­seasonal­ repertoire­box intrigue with the performance of three Spanish Carols from the 16th century, blessed by soloist turns by Carol Tsai, Christine Hollinger, Kristen Aylesworth, Travis Stehmeier, Steven Murphy and Mr. Simmons.

Another strong choral moment arrived with Ola Gjello’s arrangement of “Away in a Manger,” its alternative melody sung by the Santa Barbara Children’s Choir, with the adult choral forces supplying entrancing hummed chords, as harmonic swaddling.

In another Hollywood connection once removed, with local ties, actress, novelist, bon vivant longtime Santa Barbara resident, showed up in her pajamas — in character, as a grandmother — reading “The Night Before Christmas” to her young grandchildren onstage, while the amiable sounds of Philip Lane’s orchestral soundtrack nuzzled up around the famous words, and a Santa Claus scampered onstage, up the aisles, and put the Lobero’s in­house Christmas tree to good prop­time use.

This Santa lurked by the theater’s exit (drive­by traffic on Anacapa must have wondered if he had been locked out), and burst back inside the theater in just in time to bellow the kindly finale to the story: “Merry Christmas to all, and too all a good night.” Hear, hear.