Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “O Come, Little Children” (reviewed by Trevor Holyoak)

Review
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Title: O Come, Little Children
Performed by: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Rolando Villazon, and Angela Brower
Publisher: The Church Historian’s Press
Genre: Music
Year Published: 2017
Binding: Available in CD, DVD, and MP3 formats
Price: $15.98 for CD, $19.99 for DVD, $13.99 for MP3 (music and video are also available for streaming from Amazon)

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak for the Association for Mormon Letters

This concert was recorded last year, and a shortened version will be shown on BYUTV during this Christmas season. I received both the CD and DVD for review. I was interested in this because I love Christmas music, and the Tabernacle Choir is a part of my Christmas tradition, having grown up with Mr. Krueger’s Christmas (which came out when I was seven years old) and several Tabernacle Choir records that my parents had.

If you can watch the DVD, I highly recommend doing so. It has many things that were not recorded on the CD (such as clapping, laughing, and comments by Rolando Villazon), and it’s a lot of fun to watch the performers. After watching it, the CD can be replayed just for the music, which is also enjoyable in itself. The DVD also has some extra features, with Rolando Villazon and Angela Brower talking backstage about the concert and how they got involved, as well as a more technical segment about how The Little Match Girl was made.

Rolando Villazon is an opera singer originally from Mexico. He has a very heavy accent, and seems to really enjoy trilling his Rs (he actually makes some jokes about that on the DVD). In the extra feature on the DVD, he talks about how he was discovered at age 12 while singing in the shower. He sings on several of the songs and also narrates on two of them. I originally preferred his singing over his narration, but after repeated watchings and listenings he has grown on me.

Angela Brower is also an opera singer. She is a member of the LDS church, and had a dream of performing with the Tabernacle Choir. She and Rolando are friends, and when he found out about her dream, he arranged for her to perform with him. She is an excellent singer and the two of them sing well together (she also has a solo on another song).

The choir, as always, is very good. They have the opportunity to sing some songs without any soloists, which is nice if, like me, you’re not as much of an opera fan. The orchestra is also great, and it’s fun to watch them play their instruments. The bell choir also turns up for a couple of the songs.

And for several songs, dancers appear. They are all ages, and they seem to be dressed in clothing from the period of the Match Girl story throughout the concert. Their dances tend to not have much to do with the songs, which is kind of puzzling, particularly the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. There are several fun giant camel puppets that appear in a few of the songs with the dancers, similar to the dragons you might see portrayed in Chinese parades.

The Little Match Girl is intended to be the highlight of the concert. The story is narrated by Villazon in between choir verses, while the orchestra plays and a little girl acts it out on the stage. There is a long vertical screen behind and above the girl that shows some pretty impressive CGI to represent what she is seeing.

One of my favorite songs was Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. It reminded me of playing the song on the trumpet in junior high. It was the first time I used a mute, which is what gives the distinctive tinny trumpet sound in the song. The trumpets here use the same type of mute, although you only get to see it for a fraction of a second.

A song that you absolutely have to see to appreciate is We Three Kings, which is performed on the organ. It is played by Richard Elliott, Clay Christiansen, and Andrew Unsworth – simultaneously, while standing up. They have a really good time with it, and so does the audience (an aspect you won’t hear on the CD).

I also really enjoyed Angels from the Realms of Glory. According to the CD liner, this “has become the signature finale at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concerts.” During this number, everyone comes on and participates, including the soloists, the dancers, the bell choir, and even the camels.

Despite the heavy opera emphasis, I really enjoyed this album/video. There are some technical things that bothered me a little. The lighting on the choir and orchestra isn’t that great, and people’s faces are shadowed. And on the CD, Villazon tends to overpower the choir. On the DVD version, the balance is much better.

If you like opera, you’ll love it all the more. I will enjoy listening to this again each Christmas in the future, and I heartily recommend it if you enjoy the Tabernacle Choir and/or Orchestra.