EL CENTRO — The Imperial Valley Choral Society and Imperial Valley College presented George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah” to a packed sanctuary Thursday evening, along with a message about the promise and birth of Jesus Christ.
Denny Lang, director of the “Messiah” Choir, said the evening’s concert was a presentation of the Christmas portion of composer George Frederick Handel’s Messiah composition. It featured an 80-voice choir and orchestra and four professional soloists and the sanctuary at Christ Community Church in El Centro was at full seating capacity.
The four soloists were Esther Renee Rayo, a soprano, who grew up in Brawley and is now a resident of Chicago; Mary Katherine vom Lehn, a mezzo-soprano, now based in New York; Alvin Almazan, a tenor who resides in San Diego; and Eric Carampatan, a baritone who is a resident of Los Angeles.
“These are operatic trained voices: people that are on their way up in the professional world of singing,” Lang said. “And I felt that it was important for us to have them here. And it raises the standard of what we’re performing and presenting,” according to Lang, who also serves as the artistic director of the Imperial Valley Choral Society.
Lang said he hoped Handel’s music and the biblical message from the book of Isaiah about the coming of Jesus Christ would give inspiration to the audience.
“This was a wonderful way. And this is the only and the best way to start the Christmas season, because that is the true meaning of Christmas,” said Calexico resident Frances Rice. “Christ is the meaning of Christmas.”
When soprano Rayo was invited by Lang to perform at this year’s “Messiah,” she responded, “Absolutely, I will be there,” she said.
“I love coming home and I’m so glad that I was given this opportunity tonight by the Imperial Valley Chorus Society,” Rayo said. Following the concert, she was surrounded by family members and friends. “I’m so blessed,” she commented.
Many of Rayo’s friends were from Sacred Heart Church, where she began singing and performing in earlier years, and from the North County Coalition for the Arts where her great singing talent was eventually recognized. Rayo recently completed her Master’s degree in voice at De Paul University, Chicago, in June of this year.
“I’ve sang the soprano and alto parts of the ‘Messiah’,” said Rayo. “So I feel I know it very well. I feel as if it was part of me. The aria, ‘Rejoice Greatly’, is my favorite part of the entire ‘Messiah’, and also the second soprano aria for the Easter portion. ‘Rejoice Greatly’ has been a challenge for me over the years, because it is really hard. Your voice has to move. You’ve got to engage your entire body. I love the challenge and it’s fun.”
While most people associate Handel’s “Messiah” with the winter season, it is not so with Rayo. “I like to listen to it year-round, because I love the piece.”
Baritone Carampatan concurred with Rayo. “You know, the audience deserves a great show. No matter where it is,” said Carampatan, who grew up in a small town of 1,300 near Springfield, MO. He has performed in large metropolitan cities like New York, Sydney and Shanghai.
“My inspiration for this evening was Jesus Christ,” Carampatan said. “I am a Christian. As a Christian, it is crucial to present these words with everything you have, everything in your soul. I take the utmost care to prepare it, because it is God’s word. I mean, I prepare everything very well regardless of what it is.” He said he had experience singing jazz, pop music, movie sound tracks, and symphonic works.
Also performing with the Imperial Valley Choral Society were Imperial High School students with the Imperial High Chamber Singers under the leadership of director George Scott.
Alejandra Vega, 17, is an alto from Imperial High School. “I’m very happy to be here,” she said, explaining the performance was the culmination of rehearsals since September. “It feels very amazing,” she added. This was her second time singing the “Messiah.”
Vega’s friend, Sonia Rivera, 17, is also a member of the Imperial High Chamber Singers who sang alto in the performance. “It is hard, but it’s really fun,” Rivera admitted. “It’s really long and really complicated.”
“This music never goes out of style,” Vega said. “I think he wrote it in the 1700s, yet, hundreds and hundreds of years afterwards, we’re still singing it. And there are still people who want to see it. It never gets old.”