From centuries-old carols to contemporary tunes, Michael Ballam, one of Utah's busiest tenors, presented a program of songs centered around the holiday season's theme of love, peace and goodwill toward mankind.
Without an orchestra or backup choir, Ballam brought the best music of Christmas to his appreciative audience in an intimate setting - accompanying himself on a polished ebony Kawai grand piano.Ballam's expertise at the keyboard is equal to his finely honed talent as a singer - and his narration about the various carols was both educational and entertaining.
Some of the loudest applause was in reaction to his commentary about the need for maintaining diversity and religious tolerance during the Christmas season and his fears that the ACLU and radical fringe elements are eroding many of our basic rights.
Much of the season's music, he explained, first took root on other than American soil. His operatic training, honed on the stages of many of the world's great opera houses, came to the fore as he performed several familiar tunes in their native French, German and Latin languages, shifting smoothly in midstream into the English translations.
Such beloved carols as "What Child Is This?", "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella," "O, Night Divine," "Still, Still Still" and "Adeste Fidelious," were performed during the first half of the concert, along with some early British tunes ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Coventry Carol," the latter dating back to 1543) and such Negro spirituals as "Rise Up Shepherds and Follow" and "Go Tell It On the Mountain," which came from the cotton fields of the Deep South.
The first half of the concert closed with a medley of songs from the Broadway musical "She Loves Me" - and a plug for Ballam's 1995 Utah Festival Opera Company season at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan, which will feature productions of "She Loves Me," "La Traviata" and "The Magic Flute."
For the second half of the program, Ballam turned to more contemporary music, including "Christmas Is for Children," Victor Herbert's "Toyland," John Williams' "Star of Bethlehem" (from the film, "Home Alone"), William King Driggs' (a brother of the famous King Sisters) "The Holiday of Love," several tunes focusing on Santa and Jolly Old St. Nick, and two sturdy hits - Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."
Ballam began and ended the evening with what is, arguably, the most beloved Christmas carol of all time, "Silent Night." He invited the audience - by then basking in the warm glow of Ballam's soothing voice - to join in a sing-along.
The only glitch during a wonderfully flawless concert was when, right in the middle of one of Ballam's narrative breaks, another voice broke in with "Mike, come to receiving . . . Mike, come to receiving."
To which Mike Ballam replied: "If I knew where `receiving' was, I'd be glad to go there."
The concert itself, however, was very well received.