Before the John Alexander Singers and conductor John Alexander’s November release of Jake Heggie: The Radio Hour the ensemble gave the World Premiere performance at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, California:
“Heggie, best known for such operas as “Dead Man Walking” and “Moby-Dick,” has come up with what seems to be a brand new form with “The Radio Hour”: The choral opera. In 40 minutes and three parts, it tells the story (which Heggie devised with his regular librettist, Gene Scheer) of Nora, a middle-age woman having a very bad day who seeks solace by locking herself inside her apartment and turning on the radio. Nora doesn’t sing, though, or make any other kind of peep. She is played by a silent actress.
The 24-voice John Alexander Singers (the professional subset of the chorale) did all the singing, becoming not only the music that comes out of Nora’s radio, but also her inner, self-critical voice, the stream of her consciousness. If this sounds too clever by half, it is brought off with great skill and wit.
The conceit allows Heggie to compose music in a rapid succession of styles – jazz, Latin, rap and more – as Nora turns the dial; we also hear vocalized static and other sound effects and radio commercials, many of them quite funny. Eventually, Nora must travel, a la Alice in Wonderland, into a dreamy musical world of sound itself to find and fashion her own tune, which will solve her problems. Heggie devises a scheme in which the choir personifies the 12 tones of the chromatic scale and Nora must arrange them in the proper order to form not only a coherent sentence, but a lovely melody.
Fully staged by James R. Taulli, it all moved quickly and snazzily, the choir dancing, clapping and stomping on two levels, Nora (winningly portrayed by Eve Himmelheber) scampering freely about among them. A big part of the fun was watching the performers pull it off. Alexander conducted an eight-member combo of instrumentalists (from the Pacific Symphony) in the pit, and the singers grabbed hold of their duties and dispatched them con gusto. It felt as if we had heard something truly new.” —Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register