Publish Date: 5/9/2012
May 9, 2012
MANSFIELD, PA—In what can be described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, 32 women from the Mansfield University Concert Choir performed as the Nuns Chorus in a special concert of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall in New York City on April 24.
Rob Fisher, an internationally known artist in American music and musical theatre, conducted the production. Fisher “discovered” the women of the MU Concert Choir while serving as a judge at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales in July, 2011, where the Mansfield Women’s Chorus, directed by Peggy Dettwiler, took first place.
An invitation to be a part of the special fund raising gala concert for Carnegie Hall came in the fall and, after MU officials gave their approval for students to miss a few days of class so close to the end of the school year, the MU women were on their way to one of the world’s most historic concert halls. All expenses for the trip were paid by the Carnegie Foundation.
The Carnegie Hall production featured numerous Broadway veterans including Laura Osnes, Brooke Shields, Tony Goldwyn, Patrick Page, Veanne Cox and Metropolitan Opera star mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe.
Preparation, which began last fall, included several of the MU students participating in the March presentation of The Sound of Music on campus.
The MU women arrived at Carnegie Hall on April 22 and spent two days in rehearsal before the performance on April 24. Dettwiler says they were treated like royalty, warmly greeted by the stars of the show and Carnegie staff, given presents and backstage passes. They were recognized as artists and equals, Dettwiler said.
Upon entering the hall, they were overwhelmed by the elegance and beauty of this most famous of American concert venues. Being on stage for all of the rehearsals and the performance gave the MU women a powerful glimpse of everything that goes into making great stage performances. The process of preparing for the production was as enjoyable as the thrill of the performance itself, Dettwiler added.
“At our first rehearsal I was blown away with the way we sounded singing in the hall,” Danielle Montgomery, a senior from Mansfield, PA who played Maria in the MU production, said. “At our second rehearsal I was blown away with the professional actors and actresses who were in the cast. One thing that really struck me was their amazing personalities. They were not only talented, but funny and kind as well. The entire cast and crew received our choir very well and treated us like professionals.”
“It is hard to put into words just exactly how moving, touching and amazing the whole experience was of being able to perform in and on the stage of Carnegie Hall,” Sarah Eline, a freshman from York, PA said. “The most breathtaking part was not the stars, the famous stage or the fact that we performed The Sound of Music. No, it was the sudden silence, then roar of applause that we, the Women’s Choir of Mansfield University, received after many months of hard work and dedication.”
“One of my favorite parts about the whole experience was getting to see professional musicians and directors at work,” Daniela DiBenedetto, a senior from Harleysville, PA who played Liesl in the MU production, said. “As a career I would love to work in live theatre, whether it be in management, administration, production, or performance. When I walk into a theater it just feels so welcoming, comfortable and exciting all at the same time. I never want to leave, and that’s how I felt as soon as I walked into Carnegie Hall. Watching these wonderful professionals and getting the chance to see how they worked in a rehearsal setting was just exhilarating for me.”
The Mansfield Chorus’ performance received praise from the New York media.
“The musical highlight of the evening was sung by the women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir,” Michael Dale of Broadway World wrote in his review. “As the chorus of nuns, they were staged in several corners and levels within the Carnegie Hall seating areas for their opening ‘Preludium.’ The beautiful a capella sounds coming at the ear from various heights and distances was thrilling to hear.”
In the New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote, “The uneven vocal performances were minor drawbacks in a concept that made the best possible case for the music, especially Robert Russell Bennett’s orchestrations and the show’s ‘Preludium,’ in which nuns (the women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir) bearing electric candles, sung from all four corners of the house.”
The MU ensemble also received glowing reviews from others involved in the production. In a personal letter to Dettwiler, Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director for Carnegie Hall, wrote, “Congratulations on your truly magnificent performance in our presentation of The Sound of Music on April 24. The music of the nuns was truly ethereal.”
Bruce Pomahac, director of music for the Rodgers & Hammerstein Estate, attended the rehearsal on Monday, April 23 and told Dettwiler, "The women are brilliant! They are the best nuns chorus I have heard since the original Broadway cast. Your women are going to be the stars of the show! They're wonderful!"
And, at the cast party following the performance, Rob Fisher, who brought the Mansfield singers to Carnegie Hall, said “I couldn’t be happier with our collaboration. I’m really glad that I went to Wales.”
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