After the success of his opera The Shining, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec has once again collaborated with librettist Mark Campbell to create the second of his “American historical oratorios.” Sanctuary Road draws on the astonishing stories to be found in William Still’s book The Underground Railroad, which documents the network of secret routes and safe houses used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada during the early to mid- 1800s. The epic nature of these stories of courage, perseverance and sacrifice is transformed into an enthralling saga, heard here at its world premiere performance at Carnegie Hall- a performance acclaimed by BroadwayWorld for its “riveting, pulsating wall of sound andRead more stellar soloists.”
Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road is unique. Moravec terms it an oratorio, and indeed; yet there’s plenty of dramatic action of an operatic sort. The soloists, all African American, are an able group, but bass-baritone Dashon Burton, as Still, has an especially compelling, authoritative quality. The performance was recorded live at the work’s 2018 premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Oratorio Society of New York Chorus under Kent Tritle is both precise and energetic in the pressure-packed situation of a single recorded performance.
– AllMusicGuide.com (J. Manheim)
Santuary Road's eminent singability, colorful scoring, and uplifting messages would seem to guarantee its future success. Moravec’s setting of the material makes it unquestionably an oratorio in the full quasi-operatic sense, rich in character, action, and vocal display, and also cinematic in rhythm, cutting from intimate moments to breathless chase scenes and back.
The performance largely belonged to the five soloists, four portraying various fugitives plus the clear-voiced bass-baritone Dashon Burton in a sturdy turn as William Still himself.
Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis had the showstopper aria as the appropriately named Ellen Craft. Strong in the lower register, her voice blossomed on top, bringing loud applause at the close.
In recurring segments titled “Run,” Joshua Blue depicted the lone fugitive’s terror and grit in his powerful tenor. With clear diction and dry humor, baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather as Henry “Box” Brown told of his 26 hours traveling in a shipping crate to Philadelphia.
Soprano Laquita Mitchell’s solo came late but was worth waiting for. By the aria’s climax, she was in full-throated dramatic mode, to marvelous effect.
Between Moravec’s sensitive scoring and conductor Tritle’s astute management of balances, all the solos came across clearly, even though not all the voices were extra large. In fact, all the sonic and dramatic elements of the piece came together smoothly in a well-paced performance whose final crescendo on the word “Free” brought a tear to the eye and the audience to its feet.
– New York Classical Review by David Wright
It is extremely well crafted in musical terms and it sets off the text so that the experience is commemorative, rightly honoring, remembering but of course still providing a history-as-art experience. I come away with a feeling of satisfaction, of approval. You should hear this.
– Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
All the soloists, including the lovely soprano Laquita Mitchell, the sonorous bass-baritone Dashon Burton and the heavy-lifting narrator, the superb baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather do sterling work with the unstinting support of maestro Tritle and his orchestra and chorus.
Sanctuary Roadby Paul Moravec Performer:
Joshua Blue (Tenor),
Laquita Mitchell (Soprano),
Raehann Bryce-Davis (Mezzo Soprano),
Dashon Burton (Bass Baritone),
Malcolm J. Merriweather (Baritone)
Oratorio Society of New York
Period: Contemporary Written: 2017; United States