Mater Dei High School Chorus performs in the gorgeous Teatro di Todi

After a week of performing in beautiful churches and cathedrals, the Mater Dei HS Chorus had the experience of performing in a beautiful secular venue on Thursday night in the Umbrian hill town Todi as part of their 2011 Incantato Tour. The singers under the direction of Scott Melvin performed at the charming Teatro Communale, a 19th-century public theater with a sloped stage, red velvet seats, four tiers of tapestry-accented theater boxes, and a gorgeous ceiling featuring a glittering chandelier and frescoes of cupids dedicated to famous philosophers like Machiavelli, Aristotle, and Socrates.

The special venue meant that the students could experience how to adjust their voices for different acoustics, since theater acoustics tend to be more dry than a church's live, resonant sound. And because the theater had access to a piano (unlike many Italian churches, who forego pianos for organs or other instruments because cold weather makes pianos expensive and time-consuming to maintain), the students also were able to include songs with piano accompaniment, much to their (and pianist Kent Helwig's) delight.

Though gorgeous, the Teatro Communale stage was small for a group of 140, but Scott Melvin made magic with his carefully planned "human tetris," beginning with the hand bell choir entering the theater from the back and playing several pieces at the front of the stage, followed by a rotating combination of singers (just girls, just boys, just Chamber Choir) positioning themselves at different parts of the stage, and concluding with singers surrounding the audience and filling the aisles for an inspired concert-in-the-round experience. Highlights of the night's program included a lively, unusual African piece performed by the men that had even the two grey-habited nuns in the audience bobbing their heads; the Chamber Singers' rendition of "Battle of Jericho," including a gorgeous soprano solo; and "Set me as a Seal" hich director Scott dedicated to his "dear sweet wife and little girls," who watched the show lovingly from a theater box on the second floor. Another show-stopper for audience and performers was the finale, "My God is a Rock," which Kirina S. says always "feels very communal."
The small but appreciative crowd gave the performers a standing ovation, and many of the parents on the tour presented their children with roses and chocolates they'd purchased earlier in town. All were smiling as they took pictures in the gorgeous theater before packing up the buses and heading towards dinner, sleep, and another exciting day on Italy tour that started on March 24. But many of the parents' smiles were bittersweet.

"Kirina is graduating this year," said Chamber singer's mom Karen. When speaking about getting to spend this time touring Italy with her daughter and sharing the choir experience, she teared up. "I know how special this is."
Here is an Incantato Impression Slideshow from the concert in Todi