Cullowhee, NC–The Vienna Boys’ Choir thrilled an admiring audience with an inspiring performance last night in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Western Carolina University.
The sold-out performance began with the boys (aged 10-14) entering the stage from the wings in song along with choirmaster Manolo Cagnin. Risers were positioned on either side of a grand piano to best present the twenty-three voices. Cagnin was an automated, sometimes over-the-top director and provided a visual counterpoint (and some comic relief) to the usually motionless choir. The choirmaster connected with and delighted the audience while never drawing attention away from the boy-singers.
The first half of the program presented classical pieces from such composers as Orff, Brahms, Burkhart and Schubert. The intensity of concentration necessary for these pieces was reflected on the faces of the boys as they seldom smiled before intermission. Training and self-discipline were evident as the young men performed brilliantly with their hands and arms relaxed at their sides. They bowed deeply from the waist at which times they placed their hands on their knees.
Disney’s 1962 production of Almost Angels was when I first became aware of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. I was in the fifth grade. Its only theatrical run was as a second bill with Lady and the Tramp. It is still a memorable film and has continued to garner favorable reviews over the years. Their classic attire seen in the 1962 film was in evidence at last night’s performance.
James Bond creator, author Ian Fleming visited Vienna and reported on that visit in his book, Thrilling Cities. He attended a performance at the Hofburgkapelle (Hofburg Chapel) in 1959 and was disappointed with the behavior of the audience (mostly apathetic tourists) and the architecture — his view was blocked by a column. Audience members last night had no such concerns with the facilities at Western Carolina University. The Bardo Center is a handsome venue with contemporary features.
After the intermission, the boys were much more relaxed and embraced their material with a contagious enthusiasm. Several numbers (including the encore) involved clapping and audience participation. A medley from the movie, Sister Act, along with several folk pieces highlighted the concluding section of the performance. Warner Brothers fans recognized a Looney Tunes favorite as the choir ended their performance with “Tritsch Tratsch” (Chitchat), a Johann Strauss Jr. composition.
Last night’s performance was presented by one of four Vienna Boys’ Choirs. This group is touring the United States now. Their schedule can be found HERE. Make a special effort to attend — you won’t be disappointed.