Bach Society Houston, Kyle Stegall Present ‘Majestic’ Christmas Oratorio, Celebrate ‘The Spirit Within’
ON SATURDAY, DEC. 10, Bach Society Houston (BSH) celebrates the Christmas season and its 40th anniversary with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, an alternately majestic and intimate retelling of the nativity of Jesus.
The six-part oratorio, with each part originally conceived to be performed on the major feast days of the Christmas season, is an expansive, lavishly scored work for full orchestra, chorus, and soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists. BSH will be performing the first three cantatas on Dec. 10.
Missouri-based tenor Kyle Stegall is back in Houston by popular demand to sing the role of the evangelist, who narrates the gospel throughout the oratorio with declamatory recitatives and melisma-filled arias. The performance takes place at Rice University’s new Brockman Hall for Opera in the beautifully designed Lucian and Nancy Morrison Theater, a 600-seat, three-tiered, European-style opera theater with an orchestra pit big enough to handle the large number of instruments this oratorio requires. BSH director Rick Erickson conducts.
“Bach writes at the very edge of possibility,” says Stegall of the composer’s propensity to exploit the full range and technical potential of every instrument in the oratorio, including the voice. “It’s all somehow made expressively valid by the fact that I am constantly telling a story, and that story always exists in the melody as well as the ensemble.”
While Stegall’s repertoire includes plenty of other Baroque masterpieces, as well as Romantic-era lieder and contemporary opera, the music of Bach holds a special place in his heart. Stegall and his wife Holly Piccoli, a Baroque violinist, celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Leipzig, where Bach composed hundreds of cantatas, despite the many tragedies he experienced. “No matter what was happening in his life and in his world, he always translated the spirit within him by putting ink to paper,” says Stegall.
The holidays are an especially busy time for historically informed musicians, and Stegall and Piccoli are no exception. They are currently on different tours, each performing different Christmas concerts until Dec. 22 when they return home to enjoy some “mediative time for the season.”
“I look forward to that just as much as I look forward to sharing this storytelling with audiences,” says Stegall.